“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal’.”
~Martin Luther King Jr
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and with it comes a celebration of the man himself, as well as the great contributions he made to this country. It’s tough to think about Dr. King without thinking of his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. The word “dream” has so many meanings. When Dr. King gave his famous speech in 1963, he was referring to an aspiration. But, most of the meanings refer directly to dreaming while asleep. This got us thinking about babies and when they start to dream.
A dream is actually a series of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that usually occur involuntarily during certain stages of sleep. Scientists don’t really understand the purpose of dreams, though they are a much debated topic of interest in scientific, philosophical and religious circles.
Dreaming occurs in the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Or the point in sleep when brain activity is high, resembling the point of being awake. As the name indicates, REM sleep is accompanied by continuous movements of the eyes. Although some dreams can occur during other stages of sleep, most dreams, including the vivid and memorable ones, occur during REM sleep. Dreams can vary in length and are typically remembered if one wakes while still in REM sleep. Most people have approximately three to five dreams per night. That’s all fascinating information, right? But, what about those littlest humans? Do they dream?
Scientists know that infants experience REM sleep, which surely means they must dream. No one really knows for sure since we can’t ask them. Some scientists think that infants use the REM sleep stage to develop neural connections related to language, but don’t actually experience visual dreaming until they reach the age of four or five. No one really knows.
And what about even tinier humans – babies in the womb? Scientists can’t directly measure brain activity in fetuses, like they can even in newborn babies, but they can observe babies through ultrasound technologies. They have been able to determine that fetuses are developed enough to begin experiencing REM sleep around 23 weeks. So, by theory, they probably begin dreaming at that point, too. Although, they don’t have a whole lot of information to populate their dreams, so it’s probably just sounds. But, who really knows?
Since no one really knows for sure, it seems like this will likely remain a mystery for the near future. But, I’d like to think that of course babies dream – both inside and outside the womb. Who knows – maybe they’re just formulating another great American speech or perhaps the contributions they’ll each make to improve the world as we know it. I can dream, right? 😉