Technological advances are helping to shed more and more insight on, as the University of Washington professor of early-childhood learning Patricia Kuhl has put it, “the infinite number of secrets” contained in babies’ brains.
One secret that those advances have yet to uncover: whether babies dream—and, if they do, what they dream about. “Getting inside the head of a baby,” wrote the science journalist Angela Saini in a 2013 piece for The Guardian, “is like deciphering the thoughts of a kitten.” Brains are composed of so many intangible phenomena, and the technologies used to measure the stuff that is tangible (like brain-scanning machines) are difficult to use on babies.
Research dating back to the 1960s on the purpose of REM sleep for babies in particular has found that it supports brain development, helping infants to convert their experiences and observations during conscious hours into lasting memories and skills. Perhaps that’s why babies experience much more REM sleep than adults do—about half of babies’ sleeping hours are spent in REM sleep, compared with about 20 to 25 percent for older humans. “The commonsense view,” as a result, “is that yes, babies are dreaming—they just don’t have language to be able to communicate that,” [psychologist Kelly] Bulkeley says.
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