Are Babies Able to Have Nightmares?

February 13, 2023
 minutes read
Written by
Mandy Treeby
Chief Baby Sleep Consultant
Medically reviewed by
Elissa Gross, DO
Board Certified Pediatrician & Lactation Consultant

It's something all parents would love to prevent their baby from experiencing - nightmares.

Unfortunately, sometimes your baby will have a nightmare. That can be scary for them, and for you. One minute they're sleeping well, the next they wake up screaming. Why?

Why do babies have nightmares, and how can you prevent nightmares in babies. And, of course, when do babies start having nightmares? These are all questions we hope to answer here.


If your baby's struggling with sleep, or has been suffering nightmares that have now disrupted their regular sleep pattern, check out the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. It can help guide you step-by-step to get sleep back on track. Get started today with your free sleep consultation.


When Do Babies Have Nightmares?

Babies typically have their first nightmare between 1.5 and 2-years-old, though some can have nightmares as early as 6 months.

When Do Nightmares Peak in Babies?

Your baby is unique, but nightmares in babies typically peak between 3-5-years old.

Do Newborns Have Nightmares?

We don't know. Dreams and nightmares are very mysterious, even in adults. To fully understand the debate, it helps to understand that we humans have two types of sleep:

  • Non-REM Sleep: Occurring earlier in our sleep cycle, non-REM sleep is when your body restores itself. It also helps to write information to memory. Dreams do not happen during non-REM sleep
  • REM Sleep: A deeper sleep that helps build cognitive and learning skills. We dream during REM sleep.

Newborns have a lot more REM sleep than older babies or adults - about half of their sleep is REM, while ours is closer to 25-30% REM.

Since dreams happen during REM sleep, and newborns have more REM sleep, some researchers therefore assume more REM sleep = more dreams and nightmares.

The trouble here is that newborns can't talk and therefore cannot confirm nor deny the assumptions, so they may not be dreaming at all.

That's what the other side of the debate believes: they say newborns and even infants cannot dream.

They argue that dreams and nightmares are complex mental experiences. Since newborns and younger babies are still understanding and processing the world, and their brains are still developing, they can't have dreams.

Some in this camp also note that the increased REM sleep in babies may simply be their cerebral synapses forming.

Why Do Babies Have Nightmares?

No one understands why humans of any age have nightmares, including babies. There are, however, some theories.

One theory is that your baby's brain has developed enough that they're able to process larger quantities of information. Since they're new to this world, that information can be confused or confusing. Nightmares are therefore your baby's way of making sense of the world and processing things that frighten them.

A related school of thought believes that babies are also learning about fear at this point, which can conjure scary dreams.

Can a 1-Month-Old Baby Have a Nightmare?

Based on what we know for certain, it's highly unlikely a 1-month-old baby would have nightmares. If your 1-month-old is fussy at night, they most likely need a night feeding.

Can Babies Have Nightmare at 6 Months?

As with a 1-month-old, it would be pretty rare for a 6-month-old baby to have a nightmare. If your baby is waking up crying at 6 months, they may be teething, ready for a nap transition, or experiencing their 8-month sleep regression a tad early.

Should I Wake My Baby from a Nightmare?

If your baby is screaming and crying in their sleep, you can wake from them a nightmare, yes. Once you do, though, you should sit with them and offer reassurances until they're calm.

If they're terrified, of course you can hold them and cuddle them for a bit.

Also, if your baby is old enough and can remember, discuss their nightmare, and explain that it was only a dream and cannot hurt them.

Do not wake your baby if they're having a night terror. You can distinguish a nightmare from a night terror because your baby will appear to be awake.

What is a Night Terror?

Many parents wonder what a night terror is and/or how does a night terror differ from a nightmare.

In essence, a nightmare is a very bad dream. A night terror is different: technically a “sleep disorder,” a night terror is a semi-conscious state in which your baby seems awake and is screaming or crying but is not awake - nor are they in pain. You should not wake your baby from a night terror.

Sometimes your baby will settle themselves without even waking up. Waking them may lead to confusion and terror that makes it harder for them to settle back down.

How Do I Stop My Baby's Nightmares?

We can't guarantee your baby will never have a nightmare, we do know these methods can help prevent nightmares in babies or help alleviate nightmares in babies:

Consistent Sleep Schedules: Maintaining an age-appropriate sleep schedule is one of the best and easiest ways to stop your baby from having nightmares. (Find the right sleep schedule for your baby here.)

Calming Bedtime Routines: In addition to helping cue your baby that it's time for bed, calming bedtime routines alleviate any stress or anxiety your baby may feel from their day.

Read Carefully: “Hansel and Gretel” is a classic fairytale - but also filled with parental death, abandonment, sinister witches, and murder…. Literally the stuff of nightmares. So, you know, not the best story before a baby's bedtime. Same with so many other fairytales… In other words, be sure to read stories that are light, humorous, and fun before bed.

Talk It Out:If age appropriate, asking your baby about their nightmare will help you a) understand what may be scaring them; and b) provide an opportunity to explain that nightmares are just bad dreams. They're just in your baby's imagination and cannot hurt them.

Domestic Stability: Screaming, arguing, or abusive situations can cause babies anxiety and trauma that can manifest in nightmares. If you and your partner or a family member are arguing, keep the conversation civil and quiet when the children are around.

What Do I Do If My Baby Has Nightmares Every Night?

It's completely normal for your baby to have a nightmare from time to time - even a few times a week.

If your baby has nightmares every night, it may be time to consult your pediatrician. That said, you may also want to consider the substance of their dreams.

If the dreams are about something that happens in real life - a flood, for example - you may want to talk more deeply about this fear or anxiety and explain how you'll keep your baby safe.

If the nightmare is about something completely outlandish - a space octopus eats the moon and the ocean's tides flood the world, for example - you may be able to allay that fear by explaining the many reasons why that situation won't happen. Space octopi don't exist, after all.

What Do Babies Have Nightmares About?

No one's certain what babies dream about - and, since everyone's dreams are different, the possibilities are endless. If your baby is old enough to express themselves or explain their dream, ask them for some insights. That way you can dispel their fears - and learn a lot about your baby in the process.

For more information on how to help your baby get the best sleep possible, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. We know from our own experiences how frustrating sleep training can be, so we worked with a team of pediatric sleep experts to create an easy-to-use app that can help any parent sleep train any baby - and, yes, it really works: most users see results in as a little as week!


“Longitudinal Study of Bad Dreams in Preschool-Aged Children: Prevalence, Demographic Correlates, Risk and Protective Factors,” Sleep.
“Mental Sleep Activity and Disturbing Dreams in the Lifespan,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
“Dreaming and the brain: from phenomenology to neurophysiology,” Trends in Cognitive Science.

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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Babies may cry out in their sleep for a few reasons: they're having a nightmare, they're experiencing a bit of separation anxiety, or they simply made a noise while adjusting themselves. Since there are many reasons a baby may cry suddenly in their sleep, we suggest waiting a moment to see if they settle themselves back to sleep - many do.

Dreams themselves are mysterious, so no one can say for sure why babies have bad dreams. We do know that babies who aren't sleeping well or who are surrounded by yelling and discord tend to have more nightmares than babies who sleep well and who are not exposed to acrimony.

If your baby wakes up crying, they may be having a nightmare. They may also be hungry, be teething, or simply be making a random noise (babies can be very noisy when they sleep). If your baby wakes up crying, wait a moment to see if they settle themselves. If they don't, or they're screaming hysterically, go in and offer reassurances.

The main way to stop baby's nightmares is to ensure they get proper rest. You can help your baby sleep by creating a calm, consistent sleep routine, maintaining a sleep schedule, and creating a sleep-nourishing environment - all of which the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers can help you accomplish.

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