Dreams are often interpreted to be a window to the subconscious mind. In the dynamic state of pregnancy, the dreams and nightmares that occur may be thought to be particularly meaningful, especially when they relate to the unborn baby. Do dreams and nightmares occur more while pregnant? Why might they be more common? Are dreams or nightmares with pregnancy a sign of any particular outcomes?
How Frequently Do Pregnant Women Dream?
Dreams are common, and they're just as common among pregnant women as among those who aren't pregnant. In fact, research suggests that about 9 in 10 women recall their dreams on a regular basis. But dreams do increase in frequency as gestation progresses; why might this be?
Dream recall may increase in the setting of sleep fragmentation. Late in pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, physical discomfort may lead to more frequent awakenings; in addition, increased emotional stress in anticipation and preparation for labor and birth may disrupt sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may also become restricted, and its interruption may lead to vivid dream recall. There is also evidence that hormonal changes in pregnancy have significant effects on sleep in pregnancy.
The Content of Dreams and Nightmares in Pregnancy
The content of dreams in pregnancy may reflect a different collection of daytime experiences and concerns. Pregnant women frequently dream about their unborn child, for example, and the anxiety associated with possible birth complications may provoke nightmares. About 80% of women with a previous pregnancy loss report having anxious dreams associated with birth outcomes.
Dreams may indeed reflect the underlying psychological state of pregnant women: they may have labile emotions, experiencing mood swings throughout the day. This distress may manifest in nightmares. There may be behaviors associated with these frightful experiences, including confusional arousals.
There is little to suggest a correlation between upsetting dreams and ultimate physical outcomes, involving either the mother or the child. Women should be aware of their emotional states, and if depression or anxiety becomes a concern, help should be sought from support systems, including family, friends or doctors.
Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 5th edition, 2011, pp. 1582.