What Causes Pregnancy Nightmares and Dreams?

How to Manage Disrupted Sleep and Dreams

Pregnancy nightmares are common and usually triggered by the emotions related to this period in your life. For example, if you're anxious about labor and delivery going well, you may have a vivid dream that you have a hard time with childbirth. Changing hormones play a role in this, too.

This article looks at pregnancy nightmares, why they occur, and what you can do to avoid them

Sleeping pregnant woman in bed
Andrea Gomez / Getty Images

How Dreams Change During Pregnancy

Dreams are common among all people—those who are pregnant and those who are not. However, the frequency, vividness, and content of your dreams may be very different during pregnancy compared to before or after.

Content

The content of dreams during 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.

What Is a Nightmare

A nightmare is a dream that causes fear or uneasiness. The topic of the dream centers around fear, sadness, despair, disgust, or mix of these emotions.

There may be behaviors associated with these frightful experiences, including confusional arousals, which is when you're awake but not fully aware and, thus, act very unusually.

Fortunately, just like in other times of life, dreams and nightmares may not mean anything in particular. There is no reason to be overly concerned about the content of bizarre or distressing dreams. These dreams in pregnancy will pass.

Frequency

Dreams seem to occur more often after you conceive and may become even more frequent as gestation progresses. In fact, you may experience dreams more often later in pregnancy versus your early trimesters or pre-pregnancy.

Causes

The unusual nature of pregnancy nightmares and dreams may reflect your changing psychological state. Pregnant women can have quickly changing emotions and mood swings throughout the day. This distress may manifest in nightmares.

Regarding the increase in frequency, it's possible that you aren't actually dreaming more, but you may be remembering your dreams more and in greater detail than at other times. Dream recall can increase because pregnancy can bring on sleep fragmentation.

Late in pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, physical discomfort may cause you to sleep lightly or wake up often during the night. 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 could lead to vivid dream recall. There is also evidence that hormonal changes in pregnancy can significantly disrupt sleep in pregnancy.

Risk to Pregnancy

There is little evidence to suggest a connection between upsetting dreams and the ultimate physical outcomes of the pregnancy for either the mother or the child. If you're pregnant, it's important to be aware of your emotional state, and if depression or anxiety becomes a concern, seek support. Start by talking to a partner, family member, or friend. If the feelings are intense and occur regularly, however, talk to a healthcare provider.

How to Stop Pregnancy Dreams

Taking steps to have a good sleep can help you avoid restless nights and unsettling dreams. Treatments for bad dreams often first involve improving your sleep hygiene, which means developing healthy sleep habits.

Suggestions for a better, nightmare-free rest include:

  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
  • Follow a consistent sleep schedule, waking and going to bed at the same time every single day.
  • Set up a relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or listening to soft music.
  • Go to bed early enough to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep.
  • Stop using electronics at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
  • If you go to bed and don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do a quiet activity with little light exposure.
  • Keep your bedroom at a comfortable, cool temperature.
  • Don’t eat a large amount before bedtime.
  • Don't drink fluids before bedtime.

A Word from Verywell

Just like eating well and staying active are important for a healthy pregnancy, sleeping a restful eight hours each night is essential for you and your little one. If nightmares are disrupting your sleep, see whether changing your daytime routine helps eliminate them. Although the dreams themselves won't do any harm, the loss of good zzzs can, eventually, take its toll on your well-being, and you need to stay strong for labor and childbirth.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  7. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Healthy sleep habits.

Additional Reading
  • Kryger, MH et al. "Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine." ExpertConsult, 5th edition, 2011, pp. 1582.

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.