Does perimenopause cause more vivid dreams?
As if night sweats, broken sleep, middle-of-the-night anxiety, or insomnia aren’t enough to deal with during perimenopause, many women report having more worrying vivid dreams throughout these tumultuous years.
Let’s get the definitions out of the way first:
Perimenopause refers to the period (pardon the pun) of time when a woman’s levels of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate wildly in the lead up to menopause. It usually lasts for several years, and, although symptoms vary from person to person, generally packs a punch of hot flashes, torrential sweats, dizziness, mood swings, brain fog, and a long list of other challenges including night sweats, broken sleep, and worrying dreams. Menopause itself is over in a flash (excuse the second pun, or, okay, have a giggle), as it lasts for one single day. Menopause is the day that marks exactly one year since a woman’s last period. On the following day, her post-menopausal life begins.
So, does perimenopause cause more vivid, worrying dreams, or is something else at play at this stage of life?
Some studies suggest that as their oestrogen levels fall, women spend less of their nightly sleep cycle in deep sleep and, possibly, more time in REM (vivid dreaming) sleep. But dream recall – including those worrying, vivid dreams – is not necessarily related to how much time we spend in REM sleep.
We all dream several times a night, but we generally only remember a dream when we wake during the dream or shortly after it. We’re at our most wakeful at the end of a dream, so any little niggle – a full bladder, a sound in the street, a snoring partner, a blast of chill air – might wake us up in time to grasp the dream before it fades from memory. Niggles apart, we generally sleep through until the morning, remembering only the final dream if we’re fortunate enough to wake up naturally. Since many perimenopausal women find they sleep more lightly and suffer broken sleep, they are more likely to wake up towards the end of a dream, leaving them with the impression of having more dreams than they did during their pre-perimenopausal, unbroken, long, nourishing sleeps.
There’s some evidence that perimenopausal night sweats tend to occur in NREM (the non-REM phase of sleep), and that it’s not the sweat that wakes women up, but the changes in brain chemistry that precede the sweat. The evidence is not conclusive. Also, it’s important to know that we dream in NREM periods: but those dreams are generally more mundane than the emotionally charged vivid dreams typical of REM. What we do know, is that waking up from a night sweat leaves women wide awake and frequently anxious. That anxiety will feed back into the next dream once the woman falls asleep. Her dreams may process her anxiety and find peaceful resolution, or they may escalate into nightmares or vividly intense worrying dreams.
Nightmares, scary, or stressful dreams tend to wake us up at any age or stage of life. This is because when we feel fear or stress in a dream, adrenaline and cortisol floods the bloodstream to prepare us for flight or fight. We wake up in a state of high alert, the dream fresh on our mind. The perimenopausal woman who has fallen back to sleep after a night sweat only to enter a nightmare or stressful dream may find herself jolted out of sleep and back into high alert as she contemplates the nightmare.
During the day, the hormonal fluctuations that occur with perimenopause can intensify emotions and cause mood swings, anxiety, fear of the future, and physical and mental exhaustion. Since our dreams process our daily experiences, it’s perhaps no surprise that many perimenopausal women’s dreams reflect their fearful, anxious, stressful, daytime worries, and may present as nightmares that add to already increased night-time awakening and more remembered dreams.
While many women may choose medication to ease perimenopause, this time of life can also be a time of grieving (perhaps for youth, fertility, an active parenting role for those whose children are leaving home, a sense of lost opportunities), regrets, and learning to let go. It can be a time of high anxiety for the future: aging, staying healthy, caring for elderly parents, confronting mortality. It is also a rite of passage offering a gift: an opportunity to choose how to embrace the next phase of life, what to sow, grow, and harvest. Change is one of the greatest predictors of vivid dreams, as the dreaming mind grapples with processing the experience, grieving the old way, stepping out of comfort zone, growing into the new.
When we learn how to explore and interpret our dreams, we gain insight into the way we process our experiences, our stresses, anxieties, and challenges. We get to see and understand our unconscious mindset and how it affects the way we handle life. We gain the opportunity to understand ourselves more deeply, to identify inner conflict, and – with the help of dream alchemy techniques – to resolve conflict, reduce stress, resolve issues, discover fresh perspective, and find new and exciting ways forward in life.
If you remember more dreams during perimenopause, celebrate! Take the opportunity to work with them to smooth your transition into the next phase of your beautiful life.