Sleeping during pregnancy can be tough—even if you don’t suffer from straight-up pregnancy insomnia. During any given night, you have to use the bathroom no less than four times, you’re tossing and turning, and your hips are sore from sleeping on your side. Add vivid, heart-pounding pregnancy dreams to the mix, and getting through the night can feel like a Herculean effort.
In this post, we’ll explain:
- Why pregnant women have more vivid dreams
- What those weird pregnancy dreams mean
- Plus, provide tips for handling the nightmares
Why Are Dreams More Vivid During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women report more nightmares in sleep studies, particularly in the third trimester. (In one study, pregnant women reported 2.5 times more bad dreams than non-pregnant women!) And pregnancy dreams really are more vivid.
The medical reasons for this are:
1. Hormonal changes
When pregnant, your body produces more progesterone and estrogen. These hormonal changes impact how your brain processes information and emotions, which can disrupt sleep. Because of similar hormonal shifts, PMS has a similar affect on your ability to sleep. (source)
2. Changes in REM cycle
As your pregnancy progresses, the amount of deep sleep you get decreases and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep increases. According to Dr. Sears, REM cycle affects your dreams because:
- This state of sleep encourages more dreams, because your brain is more active.
- Since you’re more aware of your environment and arouse from sleep more easily during REM cycles, you’re more likely to remember your dreams.
You’ve got a lot on your mind, mama! Stress is a natural part of pregnancy as you adjust to so many new changes, but it can lead to insomnia and interrupted sleep. Studies show that daily stress can affect our ability to get a good night’s sleep and that people who feel stressed report more frequent dreams.
4. Heightened emotions of pregnancy
There are a lot of reasons your emotions are heightened during pregnancy—after all, you’re bringing a new life into this world! Even if you’re not stressed or fearful, excitement can send your mind spinning in a million different directions. And research proves that lack of sleep compromises our brain’s ability to regulate emotions. Since dreams help us work through our emotions, you’re more likely to have more dreams when you feel overwhelmed. (source)
Pregnancy Dreams Decoded
Now that you know why your pregnancy dreams are more vivid, you’re probably wondering what those dreams mean.
- Does a positive pregnancy test dream really mean you’re pregnant?
- If you dream you’re having a girl, is that really predictive of the baby’s sex?
- Is there any truth to common interpretations of pregnancy dreams?
Read on for a breakdown of what the most common pregnancy dreams really mean!
Dreams about conceiving
If you’re dreaming about being pregnant or conceiving, but haven’t yet gotten your BFP, it could be your mind’s way of clueing you in. (Though there are no studies to support this theory!) A dream about conceiving could also symbolize a new project or phase in your life that you’re thinking of starting.
Dreams about the sex of the baby
In one study, women were more likely to correctly guess their baby’s gender if the prediction was based on psychological criteria (feelings or dreams), as opposed to old wives’ tales (lack of morning sickness or belly shape, for example). Dreams about the baby’s sex aren’t foolproof—they can be influenced by social and cultural factors—but there could be some accuracy to them.
Dreams about labor
Dreams about being in labor could mean you’re anxious or worried about giving birth. It could also mean that you’re ready for changes in your life, or are actually on the verge of giving birth. A dream about labor could also symbolize bringing a new project to fruition.
Dreams about something happening to the baby
We already established the fact that pregnancy dreams can be a result of heightened emotions, so it makes sense that you may dream about something happening to the baby, both in utero and after birth.
Pregnant women’s nightmares often involved miscarriages or still births, Dr. Sheldon Roth, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and a dream expert, told NBC. “People use dreams as a way of problem solving and adapting to new circumstances. These parents are simply using their dreams to mentally sort out a huge life change.”
Dreams about forgetting the baby
The same sleep researcher found that expectant and new mothers commonly have dreams about forgetting or losing the baby, because new memories are organized and stored during sleep.
Roth theorizes that because parents don’t have a fully established mental representation of their child during pregnancy or the first few weeks of life, they may have more frequent dreams about missing, losing, or forgetting the baby.
These dreams don’t indicate anything about your ability to parent, they’re just a sign that your brain is still connecting all of the dots.
Dreams about you or the baby as an animal
“Animals almost invariably represent instincts when we meet them in dreams,” Jungian analyst Barbara Hannah told Psychology Today. Dreaming of your baby as an animal reflects your instinctual role as mama bear, and dreaming of yourself as an animal reflects your protective instincts.
Dreams about love affairs with an ex or another partner
These types of dreams don’t mean you have any desire or intention to be unfaithful. Much more likely, they’re a sign that you fear how your relationship with your partner may change once the baby is born. These dreams could also be about feeling uncomfortable with your expanding body during pregnancy and wanting to still feel desirable.
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So What Do These Dreams REALLY Mean?
Dreams are our mind’s way of working through fears and anxiety.
According to researcher Ernest Hartmann, dreams are hyperconnective, they creatively associate ideas and feelings—different sets of neural configurations—in a way that helps us adapt to what we’ve been through, where we are, and where we may be headed. When we’re awake our mode of thinking is too linear to allow us to develop these more creative ways of seeing our situation. (source)
Some say bits and pieces of dreams can be attributed to intuition or can even feel transcendent, but that doesn’t mean the scarier dreams are foreboding premonitions.
Wondering if your baby has dreams? Check out this post.
What to Do If You Have Recurrent Nightmares
If you’re having trouble working through your dreams, seek help and talk to your partner or a therapist. You can also try the ideas below:
Keep a dream journal
Writing dreams down and tying them to what’s happening in your life can help you manage any subconscious fears that your dreams are revealing. Journal throughout the day or shortly before bedtime to clear your mental energy. One study suggests just five minutes of journaling before bed helped people fall asleep an average of nine minutes faster.
A number of studies confirm that incorporating mindful meditation into your daily routine can ward off insomnia and improve sleep quality. Try these proven methods for reducing stress, too.
Do regular exercise
When done on a regular basis, as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise—even walking!—can dramatically improve your quality of sleep. As a bonus, exercise may also reduce the risk of sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, two other conditions that pregnant women are at greater risk of developing. (source)
Evaluate your space
Research proves that people who sleep in cluttered spaces are more likely to develop sleeping problems. Your bedroom should also be dark and free from excess noise. If you live in a loud place, try a white noise machine to cancel out some of the sound pollution. If you have a lot of windows, try blackout shades. (Here are more great sleeping tips.)
Your bedroom should also be cool—the National Sleep Foundation recommends somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees.
Practice pregnancy affirmations
If you’re struggling with fearfulness, try positive pregnancy affirmations to ease your mind. Studies suggest visualization techniques and affirmations can be very powerful tools. In one study, when weightlifters lifted hundreds of pounds, the same brain patterns were activated when they simply imagined lifting weight. Researchers say this not only increases motivation and confidence, but also suggests that, through affirmations and visualizations, the brain is training itself for whatever it needs to accomplish.
Beating Pregnancy Insomnia
If you’re still not getting much sleep, these tips can help you beat pregnancy insomnia. You can also check out these tips for getting better sleep.
- Stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, or tea too close to bedtime
- Violent movies and TV shows
- Exposure to any screens within two hours of bedtime (The blue light is too stimulating)
- Heated discussions close to bedtime
- Exercise within a few hours of going to sleep
- Eating a large meal within three hours of bedtime
- Taking a bath
- Spraying your pillow with lavender mist
- Light stretching
How About You?
Did you have any particularly vivid pregnancy dreams? What were they about? Did they happen more in one trimester than another?