Pregnancy is a period of a drastic physical and physiological change that might be reflected in many psychological aspects, including patterns of sleeping and dreaming. For example, hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy are likely to disturb sleep, negatively affect its quality, or cause sleep deprivations. The changes in sleeping patterns are associated with the more frequent possibility to recall one’s dreams. Moreover, the dreams tend to be more emotionally challenging or even disturbing during pregnancy more than during other life periods.
The hormonal changes during pregnancy have a major impact on sleeping patterns, and, consequently, dreams. Hence, the rise of progesterone level increases the sleepiness during the day. The primary purpose of progesterone is to help tissue growth and soften the ligaments to prepare a woman to childbirth, but it also affects sleeping patterns in the process. A surge in progesterone is also found to be responsible for dreaming more rapidly and vividly. However, though it is impossible to overestimate the impact of hormonal changes on sleeping patterns and dreaming, they are clearly not the only factor that affects them. Emotional changes have a drastic impact on the content of the dreams that occur during pregnancy. Though these emotional changes are strongest in mothers-to-be, they are not exclusive to them. Fathers, second parents, and other members of the family who are strongly emotionally affected by the pregnancy might also experience the change in their sleeping patterns.
Descriptive studies show that the common themes of dreams during pregnancy involve the pregnancy itself, the unborn child, the childbirth, and the concerns about being a parent. Different studies indicate that at least third part of pregnant women experiences dreaming about these themes during the gestational stage of pregnancy (Lara-Carrasco, Simard, Saint-Onge, Lamoureux-Trembla, & Nielsen, 2014). Another study found that 80% of new mothers reported that their dreams during pregnancy had some extraordinary qualities. Thus, the dreams were reported to be bizarre, vivid, or containing many graphic details. About 20% of pregnant women report having disturbing dreams during pregnancy (Blake & Reinmann, 1993). Typically, these dreams involve terrifying images of the childbirth or threats to the health of a child. The occurrences like this are normal and should not be interpreted as a sign of any pathology. However, women can report morbid dreams to be an unnerving experience.
According to the results of the study, pregnant women are more likely to recall the experience of having a bad dream than not pregnant ones. The bad dreams investigated in this study include nightmares. Regardless of the gestational stage, pregnant women tend to dream more about the female representation of women as mothers, including, of course, their own representation as mothers. They also have a tendency to dream about the representation of babies as children.
The dreams about children and motherhood most frequently occur in women during the seventh month of pregnancy. In the final two months of pregnancy, there is a decline in such type of dreams that might be attributed to a reduction in the movement of the fetus before the childbirth. There is also a psychological concern that women begin to think about the actual process of childbirth more often in the final weeks of pregnancy, so more abstract and general concerns about motherhood become replaced with a fear of actually giving birth.
All in all, pregnant women are believed to be 2,5 times more possible to experience bad dreams during nine months of pregnancy than non-pregnant women do within the same time (Lara-Carrasco, Simard, Saint-Onge, Lamoureux-Tremblay & Nielsen, 2013). The increased possibility of experiencing a bad dream might be attributed to the change in the structure of sleep. For example, the physical needs of pregnant women imply that they have to wake up during the night more frequently. The awakening interrupts the sleep cycle and contributes to the increased possibility of remembering a dream. After the childbirth, many new mothers report a continued experience of having bad dreams that usually lasts for few weeks after the childbirth. One of the most common themes of bad dreams during that time is losing a child in bed scenario. Mothers report dreams about not being able to find their child in bed and anxiously searching through the covers. When the mother awakes and realizes that was just a dream, this does not always make the fear stop. Hence, the mother goes to check up on child and calms down only after she sees him or her lying there. The study revealed that this type of dreams is a normal occurrence that does not signal of any type of pathology. They are simply related to the emotional concerns of becoming a new mother. What is more, it is also not likely that these dreams are the result of any hormonal activity because fathers often report having a similar dreaming experience.
The experiences with nightmares and vivid dreaming during pregnancy are a normal part of the process that occurs as a response to emotional and physiological changes. The pregnant women should not be concerned with the occurrence of these dreams, as long as they do not display any dangerous symptoms. The dreams are likely to stop occurring few weeks after the childbirth when sleeping patterns are restored.
Blake, R. & Reinmann, J. (1993). The Pregnancy-Related Dreams Of Pregnant Women. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
Lara-Carrasco, J., Simard, V., Saint-Onge, K., Lamoureux-Tremblay, V., & Nielsen, T. (2014). Disturbed dreaming during the third trimester of pregnancy. Sleep Medicine, 15(6), 694-700. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2014.01.026
Lara-Carrasco, J., Simard, V., Saint-Onge, K., Lamoureux-Tremblay, V., & Nielsen, T. (2013). Maternal representations in the dreams of pregnant women: a prospective comparative study. Frontiers In Psychology, 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00551