Posted by: beagle4 | March 13, 2011

Goo Goo Ga Ga

When looking back on my childhood, the earliest memory that I can remember is details from when I was 4 years old. My earliest memory is that I painted my thumb green as a member of the “Green Thumb Club”. Every event that happened before that time is a mystery to me. Sometimes I like to think that I was randomly placed on the Earth at 3 years old, and that is why I only remember details from then on. This leads me to my question for the day: Do babies dream? It would make sense that since all of us at one time were babies, that anyone would be able to answer this question. But clearly, that is not the case.

I found a game on Newgrounds.com called Baby Dreams. The game is kind of odd, but still fun. I beat the first level and then stopped playing. Here is a transcript of the introduction of the game:
-Look at him, darling. He’s dreaming.
-But he’s just a baby. What does he have to dream about?
-Being in the womb? He won’t remember the dreams when he grows up.
-They have no memory yet. They don’t know what this world is.
-I wonder what we dreamed of when we were babies?

To determine if babies dream, sleepwaves would have to be measured. In 1966, Dr. Howard P. Roffwarg and some associates conducted a study to determine whether newborns dream by looking at their sleep waves. From the results, it was determined that newborns dream even as early as the first day they are born. (Ontogenetic Development of the Human Sleep-Dream Cycle) As can be seen from the graph from the report, infants experience more hours of REM sleep than adults.

Babies spend 50-80% of sleep time in active/REM sleep, compared to only 25% for adults. Some researches, carrying their investigation into the womb, state that at 24-30 weeks gestational age the unborn baby dreams a 100%. (source) When babies sleep they start with a brief REM phase, then advance through the four stages of quiet sleep (consists of drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep and very deep sleep), and then move back into REM sleep (repeating the process). Dreaming may even have a part in developing the babies brain since they need so much more sleep than adults and spend more time in a dream state. In fact, babies may even have more vivid visual dreams than adults due to the fact that a baby’s visual part of the brain is more active during their REM period than an adult’s.

As I’ve explained in previous posts, the content of dreams is greatly influenced by daily activities (tetris game example). Also, babies do not have any understanding of language or clear concepts of people and things. So what exactly are babies dreaming about? It is believed their dreams would only consist of the subdued light they see and noises which they hear such as their mother’s voice, heartbeat, and voices outside the womb. After birth, babies may dream about the things that occur during their brief moments awake such as the touch of their parents, the sound of their environment, and the feel of their surroundings. (source) However, it is not fully clear the exact context of baby dreams (you can’t keep dream reports for babies like they do for adults).

Another question I had was, do babies cry after waking because they are having nightmares? Chances are babies do not have nightmares since they haven’t grasped the meaning of fear yet. Dr. Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, suspects that “bad dreams don’t occur until age 2 or 3 when they have a better notion of being afraid and an active imagination that can conjure up the bogeyman.” (source)

Many parents also notice that while their baby sleeps they smile and look happy. This, however, is not a result of dreaming. As a baby’s brain grows more neurons become active. Each neuron has a different function and causes the muscles to move. Therefore, these facial expressions are not a sign of dreaming.

Now just close your eyes and dream…

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Responses

  1. It makes sense that babies dream, if you ask me–why wouldn’t they? Just because we don’t know something or can’t remember it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. What they dream about, and their capacity for remembering dreams…I suppose that’s a whole different matter. I would imagine it would be particularly hard for them to tell the difference between dreaming and waking before a certain age, for example.


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