Categories: Sleep Science

Never too Early to Dream: New Study Shows that Children Dream in the Womb

Have you ever wondered at what age did you start dreaming? We all know that children dream up new worlds and even friends with their vivid imaginations but have you ever looked in on your child sleeping so peacefully and thought to yourself, “I wonder what they’re thinking about?” While science isn’t quite at that level yet, it’s pretty close. They’ve actually been able to tell us the exact week in a child’s life they begin to dream. Studies show that babies in the womb and infants dream far more than adults. So if you’re a mom sleeping and dreaming comfortably on your latex foam bed, chances are your infant is probably dreaming as well.

According to a study cited by Dr. Greene, it was believed that infants did not dream at all. It wasn’t until recently that scientists concluded that not only do newborns dream — even on the first day of life — they actually dream more than college students do. This study has been repeated several times, confirming and expanding upon the knowledge of infantile dreaming. In fact, the study concluded that infants dream more in the first two weeks of life than at any other time. The visual part of the brain is more active during newborn REM sleep than during REM adult sleep. Newborns seem to have more vivid and visual dreams than we can ever hope to have again.

To breakdown this research even further, infants ages 3 to 5 months old dream much more than infants 6 to 12 months old do. 18-month-olds dream almost twice as much as 3-year-olds do. By age 3, the amount of time spent dreaming per night is in the same range as that of young adults. As the wheel of time turns throughout life, each year we dream a little less.

The question on my mind after reading about this  was if children dream from the moment that they are born, might they dream before that time? Scientists now know that they begin to sleep at as early as 4 weeks of gestation. REM sleep waves have been found at as early as 28 weeks of gestation, and REM sleep waves accompanied by the eye movements of dreams by 30 weeks of gestation. Which concludes that infants begin to dream 2 or 3 months before they are even born!

Dreams appear to be a kind of parallel processing by which we integrate our experience, making new connections in our brains. In the uterus, babies probably dream about the muted light they see and the sounds they hear (heartbeats, voices, and music). After birth, perhaps they dream about the explosion of new sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures as they delight in getting to know their parents.

So while we all joke about the fact that children have big dreams that seem to get lost along the way in adulthood, perhaps there is a little bit of truth to it. Adults only dream during about 20% of their REM sleep cycles. It’s important that we remember, adults may have to live in reality, but we should never forget the child inside of all of us who was once (and hopefully still) a dreamer.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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