Pregnancy Nightmares

Countless women have had their dreams realised or dashed by finding out that they are pregnant. Now research published in the journal Sleep earlier this month has shown that pregnancy can affect women's dreams in a literal sense as well.

The authors, Tore Nielsen, PhD and Tyna Paquette at the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal in Canada administered questionnaires to 273 women which revealed that pregnancy affects both the content of dreams and the amount of disrupted sleep. According to Nielsen and Paquette, dream changes "may reflect the pervasive emotional influence of maternal concerns or changes instigated by severe sleep disruption, rapid eye movement sleep deprivation, and altered hormone levels."

These researchers divided their sample into three categories: not pregnant, pregnant, and post-birth. Although women in all three groups indicated similar frequencies of dreaming, those who were not pregnant experienced a greater proportion of nightmares. As might be expected, these women dreamt of babies much less frequently than those in the pregnant and post-birth groups. However, the latter group reported many more nightmares involving harm to their child than those in the pregnant category. According to Nielsen, "hallucinatory baby-in-bed nightmares and other vivid dreams of the baby in peril appear to arise normally in response to the acute maternal responsibilities and sleep fragmentation."

The sleep disruption caused by such nightmares is likely to contribute to the daily fatigue of pregnant women and new mothers.

Additional research in this area seems likely to elicit the causes of these altered dream patterns. Furthermore, as the authors note, "such research may help shed light upon the significance of disturbed dreaming in a variety of medical conditions characterized by both intense emotional stress and severe sleep disruption." In particular, obstructive sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome and sleep-related leg cramps in women are all associated with pregnancy.

By David Metcalfe

Reviewed by: Kate Liebers

Published by: Konrad Sawicki

JYI publishes undergraduate research from the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, and from some of the social sciences, such as psychology and the history of science.
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