“I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours” – Bob Dylan.
Every morning when Bella wakes up, well every morning for the past 10 months or so, I ask her what she has dreamt about. She started by answering “my birthday party”, her 3rd birthday came and went last June and now she invariably dreams about “my mummy, daddy and little brother”. Touching until last week when she said “when I close my eyes I see pictures”, now I really have little clue whether she dreams or not. Lest of all whether she can recall her dreams or whether a recurring theme in dreamland is necessarily a good thing.
Whilst still trying to figure this one out her 19 month old brother has picked up on the fact I ask her about her dreams every morning, so much so that as soon as I went into his room this morning we exchanged this dialogue:
Me: Morning, are you ok? Did you have a good sleep?
Big Son: (Vigorous nodding) Mummy! Bella?
Me: Bella’s still sleeping
Big Son: (Holding finger to mouth) Sshhhhhh, milk
Me: (Hand over the cup of milk)
Big Son: Tank-u, about?
Me: What did you dream about?
Big Son: (Nodding) Money
Big Son: No, money
The first thing to say is I enjoyed this exchange, he is now coming to an age where we manage some form of communication and he is always delighted when the outcome of this is what he expected. But money, really? Just to be sure we walked past an ATM later in the day and I’m sad to say he pointed to it and said ‘money’. As a positive he didn’t point to it and say ‘mummy’ although that could well arguably be the case as we haemorrhage money into their childcare and entertainment as all modern day parents do.
I digress. Dreams have been described since as far back as 400BC when historically used by the ancient Greeks for healing in the temples of Ascepius. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung wrote at length of the interplay between the conscious and subconscious mind during dreams. This belief still holds true in popular culture where dreams are conceived as an expression of the dreamer’s deepest fears and desires.
This is all well and good, dreams exist, we know this as we all have them. Dreams happen during REM sleep which as an adult we are in for apparently 20% of our sleep cycle. But there seems to be a lot of debate and conflicting ‘research’ out there as to whether children dream which is the main question I have. I want to know whether asking our children each morning what they dream about is fueling their already fertile and imaginative minds, whether it is a good conversation to be having. On average we spend 6 years of our life dreaming so I think it’s fair game to have some kind of discussion.
On the one hand is the Tony Crisp school of thought deemed by some as complete quackery and others as gospel. This takes the line that not only do babies and young children dream they do so twice as much as adults. At the age of 3 years children’s REM sleep is proportional to that of an adult, at 18 months 40% of sleep is REM, at 6 months 80% and….wait for it….. 100% in the first 2 weeks of life and in-utero. His proposal being, and apparently well grounded in neurophysiological research though the evidence from his article is lacking, that dreams begin from 24 weeks gestational age and he backs this up with a story of a boy born at 29 weeks who is needle-phobic after “carrying in his unconscious mind” the NICU trauma. I kid you not.
The alternative theory is that children start to dream around the age of 3 to 4 years of age. The very fact that infants can enter the REM stage directly from any wakening state precludes them from dreams apparently as they need to pass through the 60 minute pre-REM stage first. And if the longitudinal research from sleep studies is to be trusted these dreams are less frequent and more bland than “popular stereotype would have us believe”. I’m not sure what this means, is popular stereotype Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s wonderland?
My take on all of this is that no-one knows the answer. Could it be that dreams seem less complex in younger children because their language isn’t rich enough to describe them fully? Whilst the content of adults dreams may be subject to distortion it seems as though that of children is straight-forward. Bella dreams of parties, friends and family, combining all of these would constitute her “dream-day”. Discussing these surely adds to the vividness of her mental imagery and in turn her verbal ability. Apparently dreaming of your family symbolises happiness and shelter. Dreaming of money is analogous to giving love.