Do Babies Dream?

As a father watches his newborn baby sleep, he wonders one thing: Do babies dream?

| Summer 2014

  • "Our children may be ours. They may owe us everything, but from the second they are born some things are theirs alone."
    Photo by Flickr/A. Pagliaricci

By the glow of my computer screen, as she slept in my lap, my daughter’s eyes were in motion. They darted back and forth under their lids, like the eyes of someone who is dreaming. “But she is dreaming,” I thought a second later. “Of course she is.”

On the night she was born, Moriah was having her first dream, ex utero. It was one more behavior—like sighing, and yawning, and clinging to the nearest person in a time of need—that conveyed how completely human she was, a third of the way into her first day spent alive, just hours after she was pulled out of her mother and given, grunting and frowning, to me.

What do babies dream about?

But what could she possibly dream about? I have been reproached more than once for not having seen enough of the world, not having lived through extraordinary things or gone to exotic places, and I am 31 years old. Here was someone who in her whole life had seen no more than four rooms in a hospital. The company she kept was confined to her parents and a handful of nurses. What had this infant to draw on, to produce the dreams that came to her in my lap?

I turned to the online message board Yahoo! Answers, where someone else had asked my question, five years before, concerning a daughter of her own. “Her short life so far has been confined to a humidicrib,” she wrote. “I’m sure she dreams: she grimaces and smiles and wriggles around and you can see her eyes moving under their lids. What on earth could she be dreaming about?”

“Nursing,” someone answered with apparent confidence, citing as evidence the “sucking motions” her own baby made as she slept. I found this unconvincing. I have been grinding my teeth every night in my sleep for so many years that their enamel is almost gone, but it doesn’t mean I dream about grinding my teeth. I dream of being assaulted and disappointing my loved ones.

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