When Do Babies Start Dreaming?

Dreams can be a confusing, intriguing concept – and this is especially true for babies! While research shows that adults dream every night (and we’re sure you can attest to that, too), it’s less clear if babies have dreams. While some scientists believe that babies do dream, even though there’s no way to know exactly what they dream about, others argue that a baby's brain isn't mature enough to start dreaming, suggesting that babies don’t start dreaming until toddlerhood. Despite the uncertainty, many parents still wonder, "When do babies start dreaming?" Read on to learn more about when babies start dreaming, what babies may dream about, and when bad dreams might begin.

Do Babies Ever Dream?

The question, "When do babies start to dream?" is more complex than you might think. Some scientists believe that babies do dream, though what they dream about remains a mystery since they can’t tell us. Others suggest that babies don't dream because their brains aren't mature enough yet. One reason some experts think babies can dream is that they spend up to 50% of their sleep in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage, the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs. For adults, only 25% of sleep is REM. The REM stage of sleep is also where memory processing occurs, and for adults, there is a significant link between memories and dreams. Research around baby sleep shows that sleep is linked to their physical and cognitive growth, which includes memory and language development. Since babies sleep a lot more than adults to support their rapid development and growth, and many theories say dreams are based on memories, this is another suggestion that they may in fact be able to dream. Newborns can sleep up to 18 hours a day – giving them plenty of dream time. But on the flip side, others believe newborns and babies aren’t really dreaming. Any signs they may be dreaming are just their brains busy developing, and any sudden movement could be their Moro reflex in action.

When Does a Baby Start to Dream?

Answering the question, “When Does a Baby Start to Dream,” is also not straightforward. Just like with everything around baby dreams, opinions and research differ. For example, there have been thoughts that a baby starts to dream in the womb. Ultrasound observations have shown how REM sleep in babies looks like adults – the stage of sleep older children and adults are known to dream. Other research has shown that a baby's brain wave patterns in the womb resemble those during REM sleep.

Some research suggests that babies might start dreaming soon after birth. Since newborns spend about half of their sleep in REM, they have a lot of time for it.

Other studies show that babies might start dreaming as early as six months old. However, it’s usually around age two when toddlers can start to tell you about their dreams. Nightmares become more common between the ages of three and twelve. Keep in mind that babies wake frequently in the early months not because of dreams, but because their circadian rhythm isn't fully developed yet, and they need to eat often to fuel their growth and fill their tummies. And are you wondering why little babies move so much while they sleep? Often, it’s just their startle reflex which will go away as they grow.

What Does a Baby Dream About?

You may wonder what your baby may be dreaming about. Oftentimes people wonder if babies dream about their parents, or if babies dream about their time in the womb. While many scientists believe that a baby’s brain is not capable of dreaming, others believe they may be dreaming about their experiences. For adults, dreaming happens during the REM stage of sleep, which is when our brains process stored memories. Since newborn memories are shaped by their time in the womb, it could make sense that they are dreaming about those early experiences or memories. However, other theories about why we dream include regulating emotions, managing fears, or forgetting problems – all of which don't really apply to babies. For babies in the womb, some believe they could be dreaming about life in the womb or sounds from their mother. Either way, it’s hard to know since a baby can’t tell us what they are dreaming about (and often we don’t remember your dreams anyways). Your baby often will start to be able to tell you able their dreams once they are older, around two-years-old.

Do Babies Have Bad Dreams?

It is hard to know if a baby has a bad dream. Babies wake often in the middle of the night crying because they are hungry or uncomfortable.

Since nightmares usually don’t peak until around three years old, it’s unlikely that your baby is having a bad dream if they wake up upset during the night. However, older babies who do dream can have a bad dream. Unlike a nightmare though, a bad dream usually won’t cause you to wake abruptly and very upset, nor make it hard to fall back asleep.

If your baby wakes often at night and you’re concerned they are having a bad dream, take this free 3-minute sleep quiz. We can personalize a plan based on your baby’s sleep patterns or struggles to help them start sleeping better at night.

The Bottom Line

Even though we know dreams are linked to memory processing during REM sleep, it’s unclear if a young baby can dream.

Research supports both sides of the argument and without being able to communicate with us, who knows if we’ll ever be able to find out.

If you’re worried that your baby’s dreams are disrupting their sleep, download the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app. Built by pediatricians and sleep experts, the science-backed app is your perfect partner for creating a sleep schedule and environment that’s proven to help your baby sleep like a dream.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.