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Danielle Pacheco

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It’s common for women’s sleep to be disrupted during their pregnancy by bathroom breaks, fetal movements, or other events. However, for some women, one of the more unexpected side effects of pregnancy may be the changes to the way you dream.

Strange pregnancy dreams aren’t uncommon, but some may find them disconcerting. It may help to understand the reasons why your dreams change, and to know that it’s perfectly 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 weren’t usually accustomed to remembering dreams. These dreams may be highly realistic.

Researchers believe that dreams may be a way for our subconscious to work through issues that are currently on our mind. Unsurprisingly, many pregnant women report pregnancy-related dreams. You may dream about being pregnant or dream that you are meeting your baby for the first time. Many mothers even dream about the sex of the baby.

At other times, pregnancy dreams take a frightening turn. Mothers-to-be 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.

While pregnancy-themed dreams may be partly due to hormones, similar dreams have also been known to occur after giving birth and in expectant fathers. Talking through dreams with your partner may help both of you to assimilate your changing roles.

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’s 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’re especially preoccupied.

Mothers-to-be 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. Some studies have found that pregnant women with complications such as preeclampsia also report a higher incidence of disturbed dreaming.

One study found that pregnant women experienced more dreams about the baby’s safety in the early third trimester, when the baby was at a higher risk of a dangerous preterm birth. Toward the end of the third trimester, these dreams subsided and were replaced with dreams about the childbirth itself.

All of these findings support the idea that dreams parallel the real-life fears that arise as your pregnancy progresses.

Pregnancy and the Sleep Cycle

Daytime fatigue is a commonly cited reason for the uptick in dreams during pregnancy. It seems logical that women who are tired will nap more, leading to more opportunities for dreaming. However, pregnancy causes profound changes to our 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.

By contrast, for many women, pregnancy-related discomfort causes fragmented sleep with multiple nighttime awakenings. Interestingly, these disruptions may actually cause pregnant women 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 women have more dreams.

Changing hormones may also be to thank for altered sleep patterns during pregnancy. Not only do hormones cause a roller-coaster ride 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 more masochistic 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 liquids 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.

That said, in certain cases, your dreams might be trying to tell you something. If pregnancy nightmares are making it difficult to sleep or causing you anguish, or if you’re having a recurring nightmare, you should mention this to your doctor or therapist. While dreams shouldn’t 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.

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