At bedtime, when your child is ready to sleep, the journey to ‘dreamland’ can begin. We say: “Sleep tight. Sweet Dreams!” But why are we actually dreaming? Do children dream like adults?
Dreaming is an essential part of sleep, almost all experts agree. While dreaming, your brain processes the impressions of the day which helps you remember things and sort out what’s important and what isn’t. The brain can’t do this while you’re awake, because it’s too busy making sure you don’t walk into walls or pour water on your head when you meant to pour it in your mouth.
Sleep exists of several sleep cycles, which alternate. A kind of wave motion from deep sleep – the non-REM phase – to almost awakening – the REM phase. The letters REM stand for Rapid Eye Movements. Children grow during the calm, deep non-REM phase. They sleep so soundly that they can hardly be awakened. When asleep, it seems like we dream for 8 hours straight. This is not the case. Dreams occur mainly during the lighter REM sleep. If you wake up at this stage, you can usually still remember your dream. There are four to five REM phases spread over the night. When you reach later stages at night, the period of deep sleep becomes shorter and the REM phases longer. So that’s why drams mostly occur during the second part of the night, in the (early) morning.
Why Do We Dream?
Dreams are not real, but they often seem lifelike. The images that occur in our dreams come from our own brain. Why exactly do we dream? The reason why we dream is not entirely clear to date.
There are a number of interesting and plausible theories about the functions of dream sleep:
- Processing information and emotions: This theory is confirmed because we often dream about things that we have experienced during the day. Our dreams allow us to process the many daytime stimuli and store memories. As a result, dreams are sometimes referred to as “daytime remnants.” After a night’s rest with sufficient REM sleep, we can also deal better with emotions. REM sleep is therefore important for our mental health and emotional recovery.
- Maintaining the long-term memory: the memory is “cleared” by dream sleep. Unnecessary memories are deleted, and what is useful is stored in the long-term memory.
- Reaching new ideas and insights: when we dream, the brain also works differently: the rational aspect disappears and no fear can be felt. This often makes a dream illogical and incoherent. A dream associates old things with new things and can eventually lead to new patterns of thinking and acting. All of this happens unconsciously, but it can adjust the “daytime thinking”.
- Learning to deal with threatening situations: Scary dreams would help prepare us for real life emergencies. While dreaming, our fight or flight response works much faster. This explains why we sometimes wake up suddenly during a nightmare, or wake up tired afterwards.
- Discovering unconscious needs and desires: dreams help us to recognize our true drives. They transmit messages from our subconscious to our consciousness.
Children may dream in great detail
It is impossible to exactly determine from what age children start dreaming, for the simple reason that they’re unable express themselves when they’re young. Some researchers say that children up to the age of 9 do not dream that often at all. But most researchers don’t agree on that.
It’s quite possible that they think they never dream, because they don’t remember their dreams (like many adults do not remember all dreams either). Most of the time children remember their dreams better when they had a nightmare. That is not surprising, of course. In addition, the fact is that when adults remember dreams from the past, they are very often dreams from early childhood. And they are very intense and detailed. So maybe young children do dream less, but when they dream they do it vividly!
Does your child dream a lot or you need some advice on their nightmares, leave a message or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be glad to help!