The Science Behind Bad Dreams & Nightmares During Pregnancy

As beautiful and fulfilling as pregnancy is, you’ve gotta admit, it can be a rather nightmarish experience. And, even though it is considered a time of vivid dreams during pregnancy, sometimes, you end up experiencing nightmares during pregnancy? As if a pregnancy isn’t scary enough? Forgive our indignation, but if these scary experiences have kept you awake during the day, don’t panic because you are not alone. Nightmares during pregnancy are quite normal. Read all about it here and soothe those jangling nerves.

What Are Dreams?

Dreams have long mystified humans. Why do we dream? What do our dreams convey to us? Do our dreams have meanings or are these simply ethereal visions just gibberish? We’ve all pondered this question. And, researchers have been studying dreams for a long time now. But, there seems to be no clear answer to these pertinent questions about dreams and their possible meanings.

The images you see during sleep are called dreams. These can manifest as a result of your thoughts, anxieties, and troubles you take to sleep. Nightmares are scary and disturbing dreams that can seem real.

You dream many times during your sleep. But vivid dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM cycle consists of 90 minutes of deep sleep. We alternate between REM and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) cycles of sleep.

Why Do Dreams Occur?

There are many theories about the reasons humans dream.

- One study theorizes that dreams can occur as your brain consolidates memories. The memory consolidation is a very complex process consisting of multiple brain functions, hormones, and neurons.

- Dreams can also occur to help you process your emotions.

- Dreams can also provide you with solutions to your problems.

- Dreams can also give you insight into your subconscious thoughts and desires.

- Dreams can help you organize your thoughts.

Possible Reasons For Nightmares During Pregnancy:

Pregnancy is a time of extreme changes. During pregnancy, you not only go through physical changes but also emotional ones. Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time for women, especially for first-time moms. As a result, you can have dreams that can range from extremely weird to downright scary ones.


Pregnancy can be a time of unending anxiety. Combine this with physical and emotional changes you are experiencing and you can’t help but justify your nightmares.

The anxiety can be about many things, such as:

- Concerns about being a good parent can make you anxious.

- Worries about the health of the baby are a valid reason for your anxiety.

- Fear or expectations of difficult labor can add to your increasing anxiety.

Sleep Troubles:

Pregnancy and sleep troubles go hand in hand. Sleep deprivation will only add fuel to the fire.

When your REM sleep is disturbed or when you wake and sleep again often during the night, you are also able to remember your dreams more vividly.

You may wake up at night for the following reasons:

- You need to wake up many times during the night because you have the urge to urinate.

- The hormones can rage a war inside you and wake you at odd hours.

- Anxiety can keep you awake at night.

- Feelings of uneasiness due to pregnancy can lead to restless nights.

- You may not be feeling well.

- Heartburn is a common pregnancy problem due to increased pressure on the lungs and the stomach. It can keep you awake at all hours.

- You can also suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS) during pregnancy. In this condition, you have an unpleasant sensation in your legs, which only gets better with movement. So, there goes your sleep again!

- You can also experience difficulty in breathing. It can occur as the growing uterus puts extra pressure on the diaphragm.

- Fatigue and nausea can also disturb your sleep during pregnancy.

- Fetal movement can also cause disturbed sleep.

Role Of Cortisol:

Some studies indicate that cortisol has a role to play in the way we experience/process emotions when we dream.

Cortisol is a type of hormone. Cortisol levels rise as the pregnancy advances and can reach high levels at the time of labor. Cortisol levels rise during REM sleep when we have vivid dreams.

So, with cortisol levels at their peak during pregnancy and REM sleep period, pregnant women can likely have dreams that signify a whole range of their emotions through scary imagery.

Handling Nightmares During Pregnancy:

Don’t lose sleep (literally) over your nightmares during pregnancy. Don’t read too much into them unless they begin to interfere with your well-being.

Your bad dreams or nightmares during pregnancy may be a representation of your emotional and mental state at this crucial time in your life. Your nightmares may just be projections of your anxiety, fears, and concerns.

Bad dreams during pregnancy may become a concern for you if they interfere with your sleep to an extent that it affects your health. In such a case you can talk to your doctor about any health concerns. Talk about your dreams and the corresponding anxiety with your partner. A good exchange of thoughts between you and your partner can go a long way to alleviate your fears. Once the fears go away, the bad dreams may disappear too.

Tips For Better Sleep During Pregnancy:

Here are some measures that can help you sleep better during pregnancy:

- Meditate for a few minutes before your sleep time. You don’t need to go into a trance-like meditative state. Just relax, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and try to quiet your mind. Less mental chatter may mean less bad dreams.

- Read a positive book, listen to calming music or do something uplifting to release your day’s fears before you go to sleep.

- Eat well and remain physically active as per your doctor’s recommendations. A warm glass of milk or a protein-rich snack before bedtime may help you sleep better.

Bad dreams are also common in the postpartum period. New mothers continue to experience stress, sleep deprivation and hormonal changes after the pregnancy. Your dreams can also be the same – about parenthood fears or concerns about your child’s safety.

So taking measures to null your anxiety can minimize your nightmare episodes during and post your pregnancy.