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If you catch your toddler laughing while they are asleep, it can be a little disconcerting if you are not expecting it to happen. But is it normal for a toddler to laugh in their sleep?
It is normal for a toddler to laugh in their sleep. Laughing is a natural reflex that can happen in a toddler’s body during active sleep and is a common occurrence in children.
This article will take a deeper look at how toddlers sleep and at what stage of sleep their bodies may subconsciously emit laughter. It will explore several theories about why toddlers laugh in their sleep. It will also cover some other normal behaviors you may notice coming from your toddler and will provide a few tips on ensuring your toddler sleeps soundly during the night.
When Do Toddlers Laugh in Their Sleep?
Any person of any age has the potential to laugh while they are asleep. The process of laughing while sleeping is called hypnogely, and it actually occurs in many people, both children and adults.
Laughing while sleeping is most likely to occur during the REM stage of sleep, when your eyes are moving rapidly, and you are dreaming. Sometimes the laughter can be related to a dream, and other times it might just be your body relaxing and letting out the sound on its own.
Toddlers do not experience REM sleep in the same way that adults do. We do not know for sure if babies are able to have dreams, but they do experience a similar sleep cycle called active sleep. During active sleep, infants are in a restless state, typically moving around in their crib, fluttering their eyelids, and making noises.
As babies mature into the toddler stage, they continue to have active sleep states throughout the night. If your toddler begins to laugh while sleeping, it is most likely to occur during the active sleep period.
Why Do Toddlers Laugh in Their Sleep?
There are a few common reasons why your toddler may begin laughing while they are asleep, and thankfully, almost all of them are normal and nothing to be concerned about.
Laughing While Asleep Due to a Natural Reflex
No matter how old the person is, the act of laughing while sleeping comes from their body making involuntary movements. While it could be in relation to a dream the person is having at that moment, most of the time, it is simply a natural reflex the body is doing on its own subconsciously.
For toddlers, laughing during sleep is most often associated with a reflex rather than a dream. It has not yet been discovered whether children of infant and toddler age are able to experience vivid dreams; laughing is not usually attributed to something funny their subconscious is creating.
While toddlers are in the active sleep stage, they tend to wiggle around quite a bit as their muscles work involuntarily. This movement can potentially contribute to your toddler smiling or laughing while resting (source).
Laughing While Asleep Due to Information Processing
Another reason your toddler may laugh in their sleep is the constant activity in the brain while your child is sleeping.
As children grow from infant to toddler stage, they are constantly exposed to new physical, mental, emotional, and sensory experiences. Every day, their brains are filled to the brim with new information, and they do not always have time to process the things they are learning while they’re awake.
Because of this fact, toddlers’ brains often do most of their hard work while they are asleep. Resting the body gives the brain a chance to gather, organize, and process the new information learned each day.
Your toddler may start laughing in their sleep because their brain is working through events of the day, and if it processes something that made them laugh while they were awake, their body may exert it naturally while they sleep too (source).
Laughing While Asleep Due to Tension Release
Toddlers tend to be on the move all throughout the day as they explore new places in and around their homes. Their little bodies spend a lot of energy while they are awake, which is part of why they are able to sleep so hard when they do finally crash.
When your toddler’s body is deep in sleep, it will begin to release any tension it is holding. Sometimes, this release causes the body to emit involuntary sounds because your toddler is so relaxed. Laughter is one of the noises that may come from your toddler while they are sleeping simply because their body is so calm and comfortable (source).
Laughing While Asleep Due to Gelastic Epilepsy
Although it is incredibly rare, a toddler laughing while sleeping could be the effect of gelastic epilepsy. This type of epilepsy starts to show in children around the age of 10 months.
Gelastic seizures can happen while asleep or awake and typically start with uncontrollable laughter coming from the person having a seizure. The laughter usually bursts out at random times and does not sound like genuine laughter caused by something funny.
This form of epilepsy only appears in 1 or 2 of every 1,000 children with epilepsy. As long as your child’s laughter is not occurring in addition to other abnormal behaviors, there is nothing to be concerned about. (source). However, If you have any concerns, bring them up to your pediatrician during a visit.
Other Normal Behaviors During Sleep
In addition to laughing, there are many other behaviors your toddler may exhibit while sleeping. All of them are normal for young children to experience while their bodies and brains relax after each day.
Rocking Back and Forth
You may notice your toddler is quite active in their sleep, sometimes to the point where they shake their head and limbs around or maneuver themselves onto their hands and knees and begin rocking their bodies back and forth.
These movements are typically involuntary, just like the laughter your toddler is emitting. They are another way for the body to release tension while resting. They may also be a way for your toddler to soothe themself, mainly if they are happening as your child is drifting off to sleep.
As long as there are soft items surrounding your child while they sleep and they do not have the possibility of hurting themself while rocking, there is nothing to be concerned about when this occurs.
Talking While Asleep
Sleep-talking is another common occurrence when you have a toddler, especially if their speech is already very developed.
As they rest and their brain processes everything that happened during their day, they may start to babble about things they learned or experienced or say complete gibberish that has no meaning.
Talking in your sleep is entirely normal, and many adults do it as well. No matter who it is coming from, it can be startling if the person is asleep and you are not expecting to hear anything from them. The same goes for your toddler, and knowing there is nothing wrong with sleep-talking may give you peace of mind.
Sleeping in Odd Positions
While babies typically remain in the same position they are put in when they are laid down for bed, toddlers tend to move around a lot in their sleep.
A lot of tossing and turning means that your child is likely to end up in some interesting positions while they are sleeping. You may go in to check on them only to find them upside down or sideways.
If your child is changing positions a lot while sleeping, it may mean that they are not getting the restful sleep they need. Ensure that their bed is covered in soft items, that they are dressed appropriately, and the temperature is comfortable in their room to help them relax into a deeper sleep (source).
How To Ensure Your Toddler Gets a Good Night’s Sleep
When your toddler is able to sleep well during the night, they are less likely to laugh or exhibit other behaviors during their rest. Having a good night’s sleep also helps your toddler have more energy during the day and creates a positive cycle of getting enough rest at night and being more alert while awake during the day.
If your toddler is having trouble sleeping soundly through the night and you find them moving or talking in their sleep more consistently, there are a few methods you can try to help them go down easier and stay asleep.
Create a Bedtime Routine
Toddlers function best when they have a predictable routine to follow during their day. Eating, playing, and napping at the same time every day helps their bodies get into a rhythm, so they know what to expect at any given time.
The same goes for bedtime. When children have a nighttime routine that they understand and can follow, it helps their bodies wind down for the evening and relax enough to sleep well throughout the night.
Turn Off Screens Early in the Evening
The light that emits from television and mobile screens has the power to affect anyone’s sleep, no matter how old they are. However, it has an especially powerful effect on toddlers, when they are looking at a screen shortly before going to bed.
Your toddler’s brain is already processing so much new information at the end of each day that adding in the images, sounds, and glaring light from a show or movie will only overwhelm it and make sleep much more difficult.
The addition of all of this extra sensory input into the brain right before bedtime may make your child more prone to laughing in their sleep too.
Turning off and removing any screens in the hours before it is time to lay down to sleep will help your toddler rest easier and will keep their brain from dealing with information overload while they sleep (source).
Avoid Eating or Drinking Too Close to Bedtime
Like looking at a screen for an extended period of time right before it’s time to lay down, eating or drinking can have a negative effect on your toddler’s sleep as well.
The effects of eating and drinking before bed are particularly powerful when your child is consuming items with a lot of sugar in them too close to bedtime. The sugar in the food and drinks they are consuming will cause them to feel wide awake and will make it much more challenging to put them down for bed.
Food and drink sitting in your toddler’s stomach have the potential to cause them to sleep restlessly and increase the chances of sleep-talking and moving around constantly throughout the night.
In order to help your toddler sleep more peacefully and prevent these issues from happening, avoid giving them anything to eat or drink during the last hour or two before bedtime.
It is entirely normal for your toddler to laugh or talk while asleep. It is the natural wind-down of the body and mind. Providing good nutrition, routine, and comfort will facilitate good rest in your toddler.
Remember that toddlers are little individuals, and some may move more or make more noise while sleeping (or while awake!). This is very normal. If you are a worry wart, talk to our pediatrician during your child’s visit.
Teresa is a Registered Nurse in the State of Texas and the mother of two. Opinions and insights on childcare are based on professional knowledge, academic research, and personal experience.
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