MEET THE EXPERT: Dr Neil Stanley has specialised in the science of sleep for more than 30 years thesleepconsultancy.com
Sleep is a precious commodity during pregnancy, offering a respite from the physical and emotional challenges. But when your dreams are hyper vivid, sometimes it doesn’t seem like a rest at all.
While it may feel as though you are having more unusual, intense dreams, and much more often, Dr Neil Stanley explains that this is not necessarily the case:
‘Everyone dreams - we each have four or five a night. But you can only remember a dream if you wake up during it. Because your sleep is more likely to be disturbed throughout pregnancy, you will probably wake more often mid-dream.
‘Think of your dream life as a multiplex cinema. Imagine going to watch every single movie in a day. Some would make you happy, some would be sad and others would be terrifying, but by the time you got home you probably wouldn’t remember each plot. By waking repeatedly in the night you experience many dreams – yet they’re quickly forgotten.’
When the bedside light goes off, it’s normal to fall into a period of deep sleep. This lasts for about an hour, before the first dream takes place in a short phase of rapid eye movement (REM). Much of the latter part of the night is spent dreaming, during longer REM phases, until we typically wake from a final REM sleep.
During pregnancy, hormonal changes, physical discomfort and apprehension about the months ahead can contribute to waking up more often during the REM dream phases, meaning you remember your dreams. So, the quantity of your dreams may not change, but what about the content? Why do so many pregnant women report strange or scary dreams, frequently involving their baby?
‘No one really knows why we dream, but one theory is that dreams prepare us for the worst-case scenario,’ says Neil. ‘It’s probably just the brain dealing with the situation, to be at the ready should the very worst happen. You’re likely to be in a more emotional state while pregnant, so it’s common to attach more meaning than usual to your dreams – especially those about your baby.
‘Your dreams can feel very real. During a bad dream your body can react as though what you’re imagining is actually happening. Your heart races and you experience genuine fear, but you can’t act out the event because you are temporarily paralysed due to sleep.’
This isn’t necessarily fun, but the good news is that there’s nothing to worry about, and keeping your dreams in perspective will help.
‘It’s important to remember that dreams do not signal what will happen,’ says Neil. ‘It’s the brain making sense of what’s in your mind. Dreams are as meaningful as you make them.’
So, however bizarre they may be, it seems that pregnancy dreams are nothing more than a sign that your body is sorting out the inevitable stresses of this exciting phase of your life during your sleep. All the more reason to lie back and let nature do its work!
5 ideas for a good night’s sleep
BUILD A NEST
Create a comfortable bedtime environment, using pillows for support as your baby bump grows. If your partner’s sleep patterns disturb you, consider separate beds for a while.
HAVE SCREEN-FREE TIME
Banish technology from your bedroom, and avoid too much stimulation just before you go to bed. Let your mind wind down naturally.
WRITE DOWN YOUR WORRIES
Set aside a few minutes before you go to bed to jot down the things you need to do the next day, then forget about them until the morning, and enjoy sweet dreams.
TAKE TIME OUT
If you do wake up in a panic, your best bet is to get up for a few minutes before returning to bed. Lying there in the dark and quiet usually makes things seem worse.
By the time you’ve visited the bathroom and straightened out your bedding, the chances are you’ll have forgotten 90 per cent of your troubling dream.
KEEP A DREAM DIARY
Interpreting your dreams can help you understand what your subconscious is mulling over. Jot down any dreams within a few minutes of waking, before you forget the details, then research it through dream-meaning books or online searches.