When I was pregnant, I had wild, vivid dreams.
Awakened, heart shaking, I’d remind myself this is to be expected when you’re expecting.
The research is eye-opening. Nearly 70 percent of pregnant women dream, and we dream more often and more memorably in pregnancy than at any other time in our lives. Our dreams are more intense, thanks to hormones (especially estrogen and progesterone, which affect REM) and fractured sleep cycles due to discomfort.
We also have more nightmares. But here’s the thing: even the nightmares — especially the nightmares — are a good thing. Nightmares mirror our inner conflicts and worries. They tap into conflicts in childhood, fear for the baby’s health, fear that our partner will no longer find us desirable, fear of childbirth, fear of lacking mothering skills, fear of loss of physical or emotional control, and financial stress.
The evolutionary purpose of dreaming may be to help us resolve this conflict and process new information, which is why we dream more when our lives are changing. One study found that pregnant dreamers are found to have a shorter labor than nondreamers—nearly an hour less on average. Among the dreamers, those who had horrible nightmares had significantly faster deliveries than those who had good dreams only. Women who had nightmares during pregnancy also had a significantly decreased chance of getting postpartum depression.
I was delighted by these findings, especially in third trimester when the only sleep I got was shot through with bad dreams. Was there some purpose to these nightmares? I can’t say for sure — but, for me, labor, which came on slowly but ended quickly, was a dream.Jena Pincott is the author of Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies? : The Surprising Science of Pregnancy. Follow her at jenapincott.com.