What Do Dreams and Nightmares Mean in Pregnancy?

Sleep Fragmentation May Contribute to Dream Recall

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 a woman is pregnant? Why might they be more common? Are dreams or nightmares with pregnancy a sign of any particular outcomes? Learn the answers.

Sleeping pregnant woman in bed
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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. Even more, dreams do increase in frequency as gestation progresses, such that more dreams occur later in pregnancy; 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.

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. Fortunately, most women don't experience these other conditions.

There is little evidence to suggest a correlation between upsetting dreams and the ultimate physical outcomes of the pregnancy, 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.

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 and likely have little bearing on the health of the baby to come.

5 Sources
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  3. Won Christine H.J. Sleeping for two: the great paradox of sleep in pregnancy. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 11(06):593-594. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4760

  4. Lara-Carrasco J, Simard V, Saint-Onge K, Lamoureux-Tremblay V, Nielsen T. Disturbed dreaming during the third trimester of pregnancy. Sleep Medicine. 2014;15(6):694-700. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.01.026

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