How Do Babies Sleep?

A Generations Old Question Answered

How Do Babies Sleep?

As babies, we appear to spend much of our time sleeping, despite growing and learning faster than we do during any other time of our life. We don’t have the ability to communicate at that age, so many people wonder how babies sleep and dream.

In May 2013 I was identified by the University of California, Irvine as having HSAM after several years of tests. HSAM (or Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) is an extremely rare kind of memory which enables a person to recall all (or most) of their life experiences in precise detail. Only 60 people in the world are currently known to have HSAM.

My memories go back to when I was a newborn child (even though I can’t recall my actual birth). However, due to remembering each day from when I was little over a week old, I’m able to recall how I myself have slept for virtually my entire life.

During my early months, I was able to sleep well at any time of day or night. In other words, I had no internal body clock. Yet I must say that I was still awake often enough to observe and study the environment around me. I was intensely fascinated with the physical details of objects, the way in which people could walk, and how people used their vocal cords to communicate with each other.

Our speed of physical and cognitive growth during the first 18 months of our life is absolutely incredible. It almost feels like our IQ doubles with the passage of every three months at that age. Developmental milestones generally come with instinct. Suddenly I just got the idea of trying things like transforming my babble into words, getting up to attempt walking, and reaching out to physically explore the world around me. Another milestone that came along was dreaming.

Initially, I would sleep with frequent intervals of waking, but would still feel well rested. At first, I would not have dreams either. However, as I grew a bit older I developed more of a body clock and slept for progressively longer stretches of time. I began dreaming prior to my second birthday though when I was out of my crib. My guess was that I was 18 months old as I had safety rails on my bed and it was a very cold night (winter is six months before my birthday).

One night I fell asleep and found myself in a sunlit room with shelves and boxes of fruit. It was the same kind of fruit I’d see in the basket on our dining table which were apples, pears and oranges. My dream–self wandered towards a massive version of a child’s ball and chute machine, except the ‘balls’ rolling down into the end bucket were oranges. I searched through the bucket for the stickers on the oranges but woke up before I could find them. I woke up very confused about what had happened.

Every night afterward I continued having dreams and they terrified me, because I felt like I really was being taken away from home. For that reason I would scream in the middle of the night, hold my eyelids open, and would deliberately knock my toys and furniture around to bring mum into the room.

Mum did the best she could but it was impossible for her to be awake 24/7. So she bought a giant rag doll and tied it to my bed or door each night. As a young toddler this trick worked and I felt safe and was quiet throughout the night. Every time I woke up in the night I had the knowledge that I was in the company of mum. Dreams remained a mystery to me until I was verbal enough (at three years old) to ask mum why she was taking me to such strange places every night. Then she told me they were dreams, and I both said and realised “Oh, that’s what they’re called”.

How does it work?
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Rebecca Sharrock

I'm an autistic person who is making a career from writing, public speaking and advocacy work. 

See all posts by Rebecca Sharrock