A baby's conception and birth can influence dream content in new moms

September 1, 2007

The conception and birth of a child are emotional events that influence the dreams of most new mothers. In a surprisingly high number of cases, this influence reflects negative aspects of maternal responsibility, depicting the new infant in dreamed situations of danger and provoking anxiety in the mother that often spills over into wakefulness. Furthermore, these kinds of dreams are also accompanied by complex behaviors by new moms such as motor activity, speaking and expressing emotion, according to a study published in the September 1 issue of the journal SLEEP.

The study, authored by Tore Nielsen, PhD, of the Sleep Research Centre at the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal in Montréal, Québec, Canada, focused on 273 women, who were divided into three groups: postpartum, pregnant, and null gravida. The subjects completed questionnaires about pregnancy and birth factors, personality and sleep, and participated in interviews concerning the prevalence of recent infant dreams and nightmares, associated behaviors, anxiety, depression and other psychopathologic factors.

The following summarizes the results:

-- The percentage of women in all groups who recalled dreams ranged from 88-91 percent.

-- Postpartum and pregnant women recalled infant dreams and nightmares with equal prevalence, but more postpartum women reported they contained anxiety (75 percent) and the infant in danger (73 percent) than did pregnant women (59 percent).

-- Motor activity was present in twice as many postpartum (57 percent) as pregnant (24 percent) or null gravida (25 percent) women.

-- Expressing emotion was more prevalent among null gravida (56 percent) than postpartum women (27 percent), but was not different from pregnant women (37 percent).

-- Speaking was equally prevalent among the three groups (12-19 percent).

-- Behaviors were associated with nightmares, dream anxiety and, among postpartum women, post-awakening anxiety (41 percent), confusion (51 percent), and a need to check on the infant (60 percent).

“The research has uncovered a new dream phenomenon that affects a surprisingly large number of new mothers (and some fathers) and that therefore broadens our understanding of REM sleep parasomnias in the healthy population,” said Dr. 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 that are endured by new mothers. The unique experiences constitute a window through which cognitive and emotional processes underlying the earliest steps of mother-infant attachment may be observed.”

A woman’s body goes through drastic changes during and after pregnancy. These changes can be physical, hormonal and emotional. All of these changes can affect a woman’s sleep.

Most pregnant women experience daytime fatigue even though they may get more sleep. This is because the quality of their sleep tends to be worse. Physical discomfort and awakenings are common. The third trimester tends to be the time when it is hardest to sleep well.

Studies show that snoring often increases during pregnancy. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) also may develop as the pregnancy progresses. Warning signs for OSA may become more evident. These include gasping, choking sounds and pauses in breathing. OSA is more likely to develop if a woman had a high body mass index prior to the pregnancy.

Two other sleep disorders that are more common during pregnancy are restless legs syndrome (RLS) and sleep related leg cramps. RLS affects nearly 25 percent of pregnant women. RLS may be related to low iron. Therefore, women who must take iron supplements during pregnancy may have a lower risk of RLS. Leg cramps occur in about 40 percent of pregnant women. They tend to go away after delivery.

Experts recommend that pregnant and postpartum women, as well as other adults, get seven-to-eight hours of sleep each night for good health and optimum performance.

Those who suspect that they might be suffering from a sleep disorder are encouraged to discuss their problem with their primary care physician or a sleep specialist.

Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Explore further: Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

Related Stories

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Bright light therapy improves sleep in people treated for cancer

January 16, 2018
Results of a randomized controlled trial suggest that systematic bright light exposure can improve sleep for fatigued people who have been treated for cancer.

Sleep quality improves with help of incontinence drug

January 12, 2018
A drug used to curtail episodes of urinary incontinence in women also improves quality of sleep, a researcher at the Stanford University School of Medicine reports.

Light activity measured with fitness tracker linked to lower mortality in older women

January 10, 2018
Experts say that a lack of physical activity leads to age-related weakness and poor health in older adults. Official guidelines suggest that healthy older adults spend at least 2.5 hours every week doing moderate activity ...

Too many babies still die needlessly of SIDS, CDC says

January 9, 2018
(HealthDay)—Many parents still regularly risk their babies' lives as they put them to bed, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hormone therapy may ease depression linked to menopause

January 10, 2018
(HealthDay)— A year of hormone therapy cut the risk of depression symptoms in women going through menopause and early postmenopause, new research shows.

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.