Parenthood is a journey packed with love, joy, and occasional worries. As a new parent, one concern that might worry you at night is whether your precious little one can have bad dreams or nightmares. It’s perfectly natural to wonder if scary dreams cause your baby’s cries during sleep, and know that if this is one of your concerns, you are not alone. So can babies have nightmares?
No scientific evidence proves that babies, especially newborns, have bad dreams. Bad dreams are more typical from 2 years onwards, but some research suggests babies as young as six months can have nightmares. Another option in young babies is that they could be suffering from confusional arousal.
There are multiple reasons why your baby might be showing signs of having had a bad dream, and therefore exploring the topic of babies and bad dreams, such as what signs to watch out for and practical tips on how to comfort your little one if they wake up from a nightmare is a good idea. This information can help you understand your baby better and how to comfort them when needed.
Can Babies Have Nightmares?
An essential thing to mention is that no scientific evidence answers the question: can newborns have nightmares? As they cannot tell us the problem in words, we cannot definitively say that they woke up crying because of a nightmare.
More often than not, newborns wake up crying or looking unhappy because they need something from us. This need could be that their diaper is full and needs to be changed, that they are hungry, or a sound they are not used to waking them up, and they are not too happy about it.
As parents, we must remember that our newborns are now in a world very different from where they started their lives. Sounds are much more precise and louder than in the womb, and things like wet nappies and bright lights are new. Being subjected to these changes can be upsetting and can cause our little ones to respond in the only way they can, to cry.
If your baby wakes up crying and looks unhappy, the best thing to do is go through the list of things that might have upset them. Are they hungry? Is their diaper wet? Do they maybe need some comfort from Mom or Dad?
If you notice your baby crying or moaning with their eyes closed and not responding to you when you attempt to wake or reassure them, they may be suffering from confusional arousal. Confusional arousal is similar to sleepwalking and talking when someone is doing something that causes them to appear awake but still sleeping.
If your baby does seem to be suffering from confusional arousal, it’s best to comfort them but try not to wake them, as this can cause more confusion and upset.
Do Babies Have Bad Dreams: Signs To Look Out For
We know that it is likely not the case that newborn babies have nightmares, but that might make you wonder, do babies have nightmares as they get older? The consensus is that, although not common, babies can start having bad dreams at around six months old.
Recognizing whether your baby is having a bad dream can be challenging, as they cannot express their feelings verbally. However, some signs may indicate your little one is experiencing a nightmare.
Nightmares typically occur during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep cycle. Signs of bad dreams include sudden crying, fussiness, restlessness, and waking up in fright. Observing your baby’s behavior and looking for patterns over time is important to determine if bad dreams are recurring. If your baby has a nightmare, you should be able to soothe them enough to calm down.
Another aspect for you to be aware of is the difference between your baby having a nightmare and having a night terror. Night terrors differ from nightmares and typically occur during the first third of your baby’s sleeping cycle. In these instances, your baby will remain fast asleep even though they are showing signs of distress.
Signs of night terrors include sitting up in bed but not responding to you, crying, flailing, screaming, or shouting, having a rapid heart rate, crawling or walking around aimlessly, and not waking up when spoken to.
Night terrors can last for as long as 45 minutes, much longer than a nightmare. After the terror passes, your baby might not show any signs of having been in distress.
How To Comfort Your Baby When They Wake Up From A Nightmare
We now know the answer to the vital question, can babies have bad dreams? We know that, yes, from around six months, they can. Learning ways to comfort them if they are frightened or upset due to a bad dream might be a good idea.
As a parent, you have several options you could take to comfort and soothe them:
- Stay calm and provide reassurance: Your baby can sense your emotions, so remaining calm and composed is crucial. Speak to them in a soothing voice, letting them know you’re there and that they are safe.
- Physical touch: Gentle physical contact can help them feel secure, for example, holding your baby or providing gentle strokes. Skin-to-skin contact is particularly comforting for babies.
- Create a peaceful environment: Play soft music, dim the lights, or use a white noise machine to create a calm and soothing atmosphere. These techniques can help your baby relax and ease any lingering fear from the nightmare.
- Establish a bedtime routine: Consistency and predictability are essential for babies. Establishing a soothing bedtime routine, such as singing a lullaby or reading a book, can help your baby feel secure and prepare them for a peaceful sleep.
Common Causes Of Bad Dreams In Babies
While it’s not always possible to pinpoint the exact cause of a baby’s bad dream, several factors may contribute to their occurrence:
- Overstimulation: Babies can quickly become overwhelmed by external stimuli, such as bright lights, a busy environment, or loud noises. Ensuring a calm and soothing atmosphere before bedtime can reduce the likelihood of unsettling dreams.
- Developmental changes: As babies grow and develop, their brains and imagination expand. This newfound cognitive development can result in more vivid dreams or nightmares.
- Bedtime routine disruptions: Changes in your baby’s bedtime routine can sometimes trigger bad dreams. These changes might include travel, illness, or transitioning to a new sleeping arrangement. Maintaining a consistent routine and providing a stable environment can help minimize disruptions.
- Fever: When babies experience a fever, it can disrupt their sleep patterns, potentially leading to unsettling dreams. It’s essential to monitor and manage your baby’s fever with the guidance of a healthcare professional.
- Traumatic event: While rare, a traumatic event or distressing experience, such as a medical procedure or an accident, can occasionally contribute to nightmares in babies.
Are Nightmares Or Bad Dreams Something To Worry About?
As a new parent, it’s only natural to be concerned about your baby’s well-being. The good news is that nightmares or bad dreams are generally a regular part of a baby’s development and are usually nothing to worry about.
However, suppose your baby consistently experiences intense nightmares that significantly disrupt their sleep or daily life. In that case, mentioning it to your pediatrician to rule out any underlying issues may be a good idea.
Remember, each baby is unique, and their sleep patterns and experiences may vary. Providing a nurturing and supportive environment, along with a consistent sleep routine, can go a long way in helping your baby feel secure and minimizing the occurrence of bad dreams.
While we can’t be sure whether newborns have nightmares, we know that from around six months, babies can have bad dreams or nightmares during their sleep. While it’s natural to feel concerned, understanding the signs, comforting your baby, and creating a peaceful environment can help alleviate nighttime worries.
A mother of two, psychologist, and deeply passionate about the challenges of parenting. She has led several businesses, all of them focused on making a positive impact on the community.