On average, an adult spends a third of their life sleeping. Children snooze even more - and sometimes have correspondingly vivid dreams. The following blog tells you how children dream.

sleeping baby

Children already dream in the womb

Experts assume that unborn babies already have dreams in the womb, but these are still “empty”, as growing babies show eye movements that also occur in the important REM sleep phase. Doctors were able to demonstrate these REM phases as early as the 24th week of pregnancy. Dreaming is therefore already important for unborn children in order to process stimuli and sensations in the womb.

How babies and toddlers dream

Dreaming is also extremely important for small children, since they process movement sequences during sleep and link them to the corresponding brain areas. Children in particular who are going through a developmental spurt dream a lot and intensively during this time. In this way, they process the information of the day and transfer it to long-term memory. Initially, babies start their sleep with dream sleep, which is why they wake up quickly and don't sleep through the night like we adults do. From the 3rd month of life, toddlers finally enter the deep sleep phase first, which means that they now sleep more soundly, but continue to dream intensively.

The intensity of dreams in children only decreases over the years. Older children dream less - three-year-olds only have a third of their sleep time. At the same time, the dream world of older children differs from that of a newborn. In three to five year olds, the dreams are still very fragmented and don’t have a coherent plot. Instead, they don't dream of themselves in static images, but of animals or heroes, for example. Only when a child is seven to twelve years old does it dream of itself "actively" and in a coherent story.

Children and nightmares

In addition to everyday or fantastic dreams, children also have nightmares. Toddlers don't have nightmares yet, but may get scared and cry after waking up before dark. Some children also wake up without orientation and have to come to themselves first. From the age of four to five, however, nightmares are not uncommon and sometimes even useful when it comes to processing stressful experiences. If the bad dreams bother your child, it makes sense to get professional support and offer help to fall asleep:

Small children are often afraid of the dark. A small lamp in the children's room, which stays on all night, helps them. A stuffed animal like a teddy bear can also help against anxiety.

As an adult, you should take children's concerns seriously. Before going to sleep you can check together whether there is a monster hiding under the bed. It’s good for small children to make sure that everything is ok in this way, since they can’t yet distinguish between dreams and reality. Only from the age of six to seven do children know that they are dreaming and that the dream was not real.

Some children find it helpful to talk about their distressing dreams during the day. However, adults should proceed sensitively and not interpret the dreams so as not to unsettle the little ones. Often it’s enough to simply listen and to have an open ear for the problems and worries that often manifest themselves in dreams.

If your child wakes up at night and needs attention, you should talk to them soothingly and create a pleasant atmosphere for them to fall asleep. It’s only when children feel secure and born again that their fear subsides and they find their way back to sleep.

Some children suffer from a nightmare disorder. Experts recommend the so-called imagery rehearsal therapy against frequent nightmares. Here, a child simply “rewrites” the bad nightmare and comes up with an alternative ending. To do this, it paints a picture after every bad dream during the day and thus enters into an active processing process. If child and parent maintain this behaviour for several weeks and talk about the drawings, children eventually dream of the "imprinted" ending.

The night terrors are a particular burden for parents, since their own child wakes up sweating and screams. One measure to improve night terrors is relaxation-promoting bedtime rituals. Just a bedtime story and cuddling together will calm the child and make it easier to fall asleep.


people sleeping