Do Babies Dream and When Do They Start?

March 31, 2024
 minutes read
Written by
Amanda Kule
Parent Contributor
Medically reviewed by
Arik Alper, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Aerodigestive Specialist

Dreams are incredibility mysterious – for both babies and adults! Scientists say that adults dream every night, even though we rarely remember them all.

For infants however, the research is less obvious. Some scientists believe that babies do dream but acknowledge that what exactly they dream about is unknown – since they can’t tell us. Other scientists say a baby’s brain isn't mature enough to dream and they don’t start dreaming until toddlerhood.

Even though the answer is unclear, many parents do wonder if babies dream and when they may start to dream – and when they start to have nightmares or even night terrors. Read on for more on when babies start dreaming, if babies can dream when they are in the womb, when babies start having nightmares, and how to handle nightmares or scary thoughts around bedtime.


Do Babies Dream?

“Do babies dream?” is a more complicated question to answer than you may think.

Some scientists believe that yes, babies do dream, however what they dream about is unknown. Other scientists say that babies don’t dream, as cognitively they aren’t mature enough to dream. Since they can’t communicate, it’s hard to know for sure.

Part of the argument for babies being able to dream is that babies spend as much as 50% of their time in the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, which is the stage where dreams happen. For adults, only 25% of sleep at night happens in REM. Babies also sleep more than adults – newborns sleep up to 18 hours every day – so that’s a lot of time for dreaming.

During REM sleep, our brains are believed to process stored memories. Newborns, whose memories are primarily shaped by their time in the womb, may in fact dream be dreaming about that time.  

On the other hand, many scientists believe a baby doesn't dream because they don't have much to dream about. Theories about why we dream include to regulate emotion, manage fears, forget your problems, or keeping your brain sharp with a little nonsense or irregularity. None of this makes sense for a little baby.

What experts do agree on is that sleep is a crucial time for development and growth. Since babies develop and grow very quickly in their early life, it makes sense they need more sleep than adults do. Research shows that the amount a baby sleeps correlates with the physical and cognitive growth they have during their first few months and years of life. This includes memory and language.

It’s also important to remember that babies wake so often because their circadian rhythm is not yet developed, and they need to frequently eat – not because of dreams.

Do babies dream in the womb?

Observations in ultrasounds of babies during REM sleep have been said to look similar as adults during REM sleep. Other research shows a baby’s brain wave pattern in the womb is indicative of REM sleep. While the details of the potential dreams are unclear, some believe they may be dreaming about their life in the womb or sounds from their mother.

When Do Babies Start Dreaming?

It’s hard to know when babies start dreaming, since before they start to speak or understand abstract thoughts, they can’t use their words to communicate about a dream. Plus, any signs of “dreams” in a sleeping baby such as movement is often caused by something common in babies such as the Moro reflex.

Some research does suggest that babies start to dream shortly after they are born. When they are a newborn, REM, which is the sleep cycle where you dream, makes up nearly half of their total sleep. Given they sleep most of the day, that’s a lot of potential time for dreams. However, what these early dreams are is unclear. For example, some scientists believe they aren’t dreaming – instead their newborn brains are just developing.

Additional research shows babies can start dreaming as young as 6 months old. However, it's typically more obvious around age 2, when a toddler can start to communicate about them. Bad dreams or nightmares in particular peak between 3 and 12 years old.

What Do Babies Dream About?

There is no way (yet) to know what a baby is dreaming about, if they even can dream. There are some theories about why adults dream, which includes as ways to regulate emotion, manage fears, forget problems, or stay sharp. None of these theories make sense for a newly developing brain.

Once your baby is older and starts to speak, their imagination and the ability to process more complex stories also starts to develop. This could be when and why they start having bad dreams, or nightmares.  Nightmares in early childhood are often related to fears, anxieties, or stressful experiences, but they tend to decrease as children grow, mature, and learn ways to cope.

If your baby hasn’t been sleeping well or seems to be having bad dreams, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. Built by pediatricians and pediatric sleep consultants, the app helps parents figure out their baby’s sleep patterns and create a calming bedtime routine, which is known to help children with nightmares or bad dreams sleep better. Get started with a free 3-minute sleep quiz and get your personalized plan today.

Baby Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nightmares are dreams that wake you up. They occur later at night when you’re in REM sleep, which is more active. Nightmares are common and, at some point, expected. The National Sleep Foundation says roughly half of all children between the age of 3 and 6 have them!

It’s not as common for infants to have nightmares – since a nightmare is a bad dream, it’s hard to know if your baby is having a nightmare until they are closer to 2 years old. This is when they can start to communicate about their dream and when their sleep cycles are more predictable – so it’s clearer they may be having a dream or nightmare.

Night terrors, however, are less common – only 3-6% of kids even have them. They usually happen between ages 3 and 7. They are very rare in infants under 18 months. Unlike nightmares, they happen earlier in the night during NREM sleep, the deeper sleep cycles, where you don’t dream.

If your baby is older, and seems to be having nightmares often, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app. The app creates a personalized plan to help you support your baby as they cope with any sleep challenges, including bad dreams or nightmares. Take this free 3-minute sleep quiz to get your personalized plan today.

How to Handle Bad Dreams, Nightmares, and Night Fears

When your baby reaches between 6 and 8 months old, they may start to experience separation anxiety. While tough to witness, it’s a developmental milestone! They are starting to understand object permeance – the concept of something existing even if you can’t see it. Despite it being a milestone, separation anxiety can cause some fears around bedtime, which sometimes can cause your baby to protest or struggle with falling asleep.

Nightmares on the other hand are bad dreams that wake your baby after they fall asleep. They sometimes can happen if they’re sick, stressed, or sleeping away from home. Other times they dream about something from their day or a book – their growing imagination can lead to both good and bad dreams.

If your child wakes up from a nightmare, offer them lots of cuddles to calm them and soothe them back to sleep. It’s also helpful to discuss their nightmare with them to help them understand how it was just a bad dream, and they are safe.

All babies will experience a bad dream at some point! Here are ways to prevent or reduce nightmares:

  • Keep their sleep schedule consistent
  • Create a calm, consistent, relaxing bedtime routine
  • Read only uplifting books or stories, especially close to bedtime
  • Talk through any bad dreams
  • Reassure your baby that they are safe
  • Remind your baby you are nearby, even if you’re not in the room
  • Be calm and uplifting
  • Use PampersTM Swadders Sweet Dreams wipes to help soothe at bedtime with the light lavender scent

The Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app can help you craft a calming, soothing bedtime routine to help you prevent nightmares, and reduce any anxiety or fear around going to sleep.

The Bottom Line

Even though we know that dreams are tied to memory processing during REM sleep, they remain mysterious, especially when it comes to babies.

While we are not 100 percent sure a baby can dream, research exists to support both arguments.

Without the brain development that adults have, and the ability to tell us exactly what they dreamt about, even if a baby can dream, we still have no idea of knowing what it’s about. Maybe one day...


Acta Biomedica Atenei Parmensis, “Dream recall frequency and psychosomatics”, “Sleep”

Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care, “Sleep Regulation, Physiology and Development, Sleep Duration and Patterns, and Sleep Hygiene in Infants, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children”  

Infancy, “Infant motor development predicts the dynamics of movement during sleep”

Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, “Primitive Reflexes and early motor development”

Nature and Science of Sleep, “Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review”

PLOS One, “On the development of sleep states in the first weeks of life”

Sleep, “Nightmares in Children”

Trends in Cognitive Science, “Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology”

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.

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We don’t know if babies dream. If they do dream, there are some who believe they dream about their time in the womb. However, there’s no way for a baby to communicate to us what they are dreaming about. Often when a baby cries, they are trying to communicate a need, such as hunger or tiredness.

It’s unknown if babies at 1 month old dream. However, since they spend most of their time sleeping, and a large amount of that in the stage of sleep when they dream, some scientists believe they do. However, the contents of those dreams are unknown. Some experts think a 1 month old may dream about their life in the womb.

Unlike a nightmare or bad dream, night terrors happen earlier in the night. While night terrors are very uncommon in children under 18 months old, signs of night terrors in babies could include sudden waking with intense crying or screaming, appearing inconsolable, and exhibiting physical signs of distress like sweating or rapid breathing. Unlike nightmares, babies experiencing night terrors typically do not remember the episode in the morning. If you suspect night terrors, ensure your baby's safety during episodes and consult with a pediatrician for guidance.

Nightmares and night terrors are very different. Nightmares are vivid, frightening dreams that wake your baby. If your baby speaks, they often can tell you what a nightmare was about. They occur during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and are common in young children. In contrast, night terrors, or sleep terrors, typically happen within the first few hours of falling asleep during the non-REM sleep stage. During a night terror, your child may appear intensely frightened, scream or cry, and show physical signs of distress. However, they remain in a state of deep sleep and are often unresponsive to attempts at comfort. Unlike nightmares, you usually have no memory of a night terror.

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