Infant Sleep Part 2: Dreams and Nightmares
Many parents wonder if their baby can dream. The answer is yes. Experts believe that babies dream frequently since they spend most of their time in REM sleep where dreams occur. Dreams are usually pleasant but sometimes they can be scary, which is the definition of a nightmare. We’re diving into infant sleep again and taking a look at dreams and nightmares today.
Your baby is constantly learning and during sleep is no exception. When your baby dreams, she is probably revisiting her experiences from the day. This is how she processes information and stores it in her rapidly growing brain. You may notice your baby dreaming when she coos, smiles or moves her arms and legs. Chances are, she’s dreaming about all the fun things you taught her that day.
Sometimes babies wake themselves up during dreams due to their own movement. You can help young babies stay asleep by swaddling them or holding them closely and snuggly to your body. For older kids, tuck them in tightly or have them sleep in a sleeping bag that will prevent big movements.
Nightmares can occur if your baby remembers something “traumatic” that happened during the day. That’s not to say you are damaging your child because she was crying for a few minutes over wanting to be held. But to your baby, that feels sad and lonely when all she wants is to feel happy and secure.
Babies usually wake up and cry out from nightmares. Of course they may be waking up for other reasons too so it’s hard to know if your baby had a nightmare since she can’t tell you. Nightmares generally occur in the later part of overnight sleep, closer to morning time.
Try to make your baby’s sleep environment feel safe and comfortable to help her avoid any frights or anxiety when she’s alone in her room. Stick to a soothing, loving bedtime routine that includes lots of holding and cuddling. Determine what your baby enjoys in her room – a fan, nightlight or music may be particularly peaceful to your baby. Also, since dreams and nightmares stem from what happens during the day, consider ways your baby may be sensitive to her surroundings including tone. As she processes her day emotionally, she may be working through anxiety over what she experienced.
If she does wake up from a nightmare, hold, rock or nurse her to comfort her back to sleep. Stay with her to make sure she’s really asleep as this will be assuring that whatever bad dream she had will not harm her. Mommy is there for her now.
When your children are old enough to talk, discuss dreams. When nightmares happen, get your child to talk about it as much as possible to identify and overcome the fear.
Next week we’ll examine another scary infant sleep behavior, night terrors.