Can 4 month old babies have bad dreams?

Sometimes my 4 month old daughter cries in the middle of the night really loud. I run in her room to see whats wrong.. but she's still sleeping & crying so I pick her up to calm her down, and when I do she's still sleeping holding her head up like she's sleep walking..but then she stops crying after a little bit.. so I put her back in her crib...now I'm wondering can 4 month old babies have scary dreams? or what would they be dreaming about that would make them cry?? Is there anything I can do to prevent that to happen again.????

Nicole-
Yes, four month olds have dreams just like the rest of us. Most of those dreams probably relate to learning and processing her experiences of that day. However, it is entirely possible that she is processing her birth experience or some other experience that felt traumatic to her that you didn't even notice, for instance waking up and crying for you but you didn't answer because you were in the shower.

Four month olds have a lot going on. As long as most of her experience is loving and her environment feels secure and nurturing, she will process whatever reasonable traumas come her way. She may need to simply cry in your arms, or she may dream it out.

What you are describing actually sounds like night terrors more than simple bad dreams, because she does not immediately wake up and respond to your comforting.

Night terrors are different than nightmares. Nightmares are upsetting dreams that happen during REM (dream) sleep. Night terrors occur during Stage 4 Deep Sleep, or during the transition from Stage 4 to REM Sleep. During a night terror, the person is actually asleep — according to his brain waves — even if his eyes are open! Most of the time the person has no recollection of them.

Night terrors can occur at any age, but small children seem to suffer them most frequently. Toddlers are famous for them but even babies apparently have them. In fact, up to 15% of kids reportedly experience at least one night terror. Scientists think night terrors may be caused by over-arousal of the central nervous system, which regulates brain activity. Most children outgrow them, probably as their brains mature, although some adults do report having night terrors when under stress.

Night terrors are not dangerous. We don’t know what causes night terrors, but some scientists attribute them to brain chemistry and there does seem to be a genetic component. There is some indication that stress can trigger night terrors in people who are prone to them.

So what can you do for your baby?

1. Do try to keep calm yourself. It is likely that your daughter is not remembering these incidents and is not being traumatized by them. That said, of course you want to offer her whatever comfort you can, and keep her safe from thrashing around. While she will probably seem inconsolable, adults who suffer from night terrors say that they have been comforted by the calm, reassuring voices of those they love.

2. Do try to minimize stress in her life. Be sure she is not exposed to parental loud voices or other emotional stressors. Minimize schedule changes and nights away from home.

3. Don’t allow your little one to get over-tired, which may make her more susceptible to night terrors. Be sure she has a regular bedtime routine and is getting sufficient sleep. One way to insure that is to move her bedtime a bit earlier each night. Moving to an earlier bedtime not only helps them fall asleep more easily at night, but also lessens the possibility of over-arousal.

4. Do adopt a comforting bedtime ritual that includes bath and snuggling, and follow it each night, so she is more relaxed when she goes to bed. I would also not advise letting your daughter cry herself to sleep, which increases the likelihood of over-arousal even in sleep.

5. Be aware that fevers can trigger night terrors in those who are prone.

6. Do make sure that your baby is not being accidentally awakened. There is some evidence that night terrors result from being awakened during Stage 4 sleep (if there is already a predisposition). If traffic or TV or telephone noises intrude on her sleep, they could be awakening her. You might invest in a white noise machine as a precaution.

7. Don’t try to force your baby to wake up from a night terror. That leaves a person extremely disoriented, sometimes to the point of temporary amnesia.

Good luck. I wish you and your daughter sweet dreams.

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