It is common for sleep to be disrupted during pregnancy by bathroom breaks, fetal movements, or other events. However, for some people, one of the more unexpected side effects of pregnancy may be the changes to the way they dream.
Strange pregnancy dreams are common, but some may find them disconcerting. It may help to understand the reasons why your dreams change, and to know that it is normal to experience detailed and sometimes frightening dreams during pregnancy.
How Does Pregnancy Affect Dreams?
Vivid dreams and nightmares are common during pregnancy. Many women also report greater dream recall during pregnancy, even for those who were not usually accustomed to remembering dreams. These dreams may be highly realistic.
Researchers believe that dreams may be a way for a person’s subconscious to work through issues that are currently on their mind. Unsurprisingly, many pregnant women report pregnancy-related dreams . They may dream about being pregnant or dream that they are meeting their baby for the first time. Many mothers even dream about the biological sex of the baby.
At other times, pregnancy dreams take a frightening turn. Pregnant people may have nightmares about labor and delivery, or dream that something bad has happened to the baby. A common theme for dreams during pregnancy involves conflict with the father of the child.
While pregnancy-themed dreams may be partly due to hormones, similar dreams have also been known to occur after giving birth and in partners of pregnant people. Talking through dreams with your partner may help both of you to assimilate your changing roles
“Knowing that vivid dreams are normal and expected during pregnancy is comforting for people who may experience atypically frequent or scary dreams. Paradoxically, women with more negative dreams are less likely to experience postpartum depression. However, if your dreams are distressing, write them down and discuss with your therapist or psychiatrist.”
Dr. Carly Snyder, Reproductive and Perinatal Psychiatrist
Why Does Pregnancy Affect Dreams?
Vivid dreams are likely the body’s way of sorting through the many feelings and emotions that arise during pregnancy, both positive and negative .
Pregnancy can be a time of great joy and anticipation as you prepare to welcome your new baby. However, it is also natural to feel stress during this time, along with anxiety about labor and delivery. The content of your dreams may help you identify areas with which you are especially preoccupied.
Pregnant people who report feeling more anxious or depressed during the day are more likely to experience bad dreams. Similarly, research consistently finds that first-time mothers tend to have more pregnancy-related dreams than those who have already had children.
Pregnancy and the Sleep Cycle
Daytime fatigue is a commonly cited reason for the increase in dreams during pregnancy. It seems logical that people who are tired will nap more, leading to more opportunities for dreaming. However, pregnancy causes profound changes to nighttime sleep, as well.
As we sleep, we progress through various sleep stages. Dreaming tends to occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, at the end of each sleep cycle. During a regular night, we may experience four or five episodes of REM sleep, but we often forget our dreams by the time we wake up several hours later.
For many pregnant people, pregnancy-related discomfort causes fragmented sleep with multiple nighttime awakenings. Interestingly, these disruptions may actually cause pregnant people to get less REM sleep overall . However, people are usually more likely to remember their dreams if they wake up in the middle of a dream cycle, making it appear that pregnant people have more dreams.
Changing hormones may also contribute to altered sleep patterns during pregnancy. Not only do hormones cause a flux of emotions during the day, but some researchers also theorize that the increase in vivid, detailed dreams may be linked with higher levels of progesterone that arise in late pregnancy.
Should I Be Worried About Vivid Dreams During Pregnancy?
In most cases, vivid dreams during pregnancy are a normal and healthy way to process emotions. In fact, several studies have found that mothers who had unpleasant dreams during pregnancy show higher levels of depressive symptoms during pregnancy, but go on to have shorter labors and a lower risk of postpartum depression .
Improving the quality of your sleep and reducing nighttime awakenings may help cut down on vivid dreams. Try following pregnancy sleeping tips such as sleeping on your left side and avoiding large meals before bed to reduce disruptions to your sleep.
Keeping a dream journal may help you decipher thought patterns and prevent nighttime worries from keeping you awake. You can also reach out to your support system or try meditation, yoga, or other prenatal courses. Feeling more secure and confident about your pregnancy can help you relax at night so you can get better sleep.
If pregnancy nightmares are making it difficult to sleep or causing you anguish, or if you are having a recurring nightmare, you should mention this to your doctor or therapist. While dreams should not necessarily be taken literally, they may reflect underlying stressors or problems. Your doctor can order tests to rule out an underlying sleep disorder and ensure there is no cause for concern for you or your baby.