Concerts running in the bedroom closet, Kim Jong-un’s rescue missions, lianas in the subway. It sounds like the plot of a very weird science fiction novel but no, these are just some of the contents of the bizarre dreams’ epidemic spreading alongside the Covid-19.
In fact, it seems that, while our waking hours become more and more monotonous, sleep time is proving very lively. They call it ‘lockdown dreams’ and it is the phenomenon happening in these weeks of people reporting to have vivid, weird, and super realistic dreams.
Kathryn Canty (@kathrynmcanty), for example, had to open an Indian restaurant next to Dominic Raab’s house in order to be nominated Chief of the Coronavirus Emergency Committee. While Henry (@HJriseup) might have lost forever the cure to the virus.
I had a dream I found the cure for corona virus but I spilt chocolate milk on it
— Henry (@HJriseup) April 9, 2020
And what about J. K. Rowling who did not disappoint expectations even with the plots of her dreams.
Had the most elaborate nightmare of my life last night: a hammer-wielding serial killer, a female scientist working on a Coronavirus vaccine & many sub-plots, one involving rescuing an ape from a window ledge. In a break between gruesome killings, I took @EmmaWatson out to lunch.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) April 20, 2020
There is an explanation for this
According to scientific studies, we dream during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of our sleep. In this stage, our brain activity is very responsive, quite similar to when awake. Also, REM is cyclical, so we keep shifting in and out of it during our sleep. That is why, if we happen to wake up during one of these phases, we are more likely to remember what we were dreaming.
Jane Teresa Anderson, dreams analyst, therapist and writer, explained that the reason behind so many vivid memories of dreams in these weeks is that “many people are going to bed earlier so longer sleep produces more dreams. Also, most people are generally under slept so when they finally manage to get a good solid seven, eight or nine hours of sleep, their brain makes up for the lost time.”
Another aspect, Anderson said, is that under lockdown, we are slowing down our daytime schedule and shifting usual routines. “With a lot of people working from home and not having to jump out of bed in the morning, there’s a little bit of sleeping in happening. When you don’t jump up with an alarm, you tend to remember more dreams.”
Also, it seems like all the subjects of these odd dreams are, in some way, coronavirus related. Dr Deirdre Leigh Barrett, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical, is studying a sample of dreams collected by an ongoing survey and she supports the idea that the current imagery is creeping in our sleep. Barrett has explained that many reported dreams are clearly about the pandemic, whereas others are more metaphorical but, in her opinion, still linked.
Dreams or nightmares?
But while for some people these nocturnal adventures are a very welcomed escape from the daily tedium, for others, dreams can actually turn into nightmares leaving them stressed and shaken.
“I had to tell this very fat, very slimy man that I had the virus so that he would stop molesting me,” Erika Radaelli told about one dream that left her shaken. Dominique Berg recalled to feeling “relieved when I woke up” after she dreamt the virus had a much higher mortality rate than the actual one.
Anderson believes that dreams are a way to process real-life events’ emotions, helping us to cope with anxiety. Therefore, it is completely normal that when we feel overwhelmed by those emotions the quality of our sleep gets affected.
“Even if we are not experiencing those intense emotions at the moment,” she said, “we all realise we are going through some kind of change, and this comes up with very vivid, surreal, symbolic images in our dreams.”
Surprisingly, Anderson explained, dreams that play the pandemic storyline or include elements of it are more frequent among the people who try to avoid hyper-consumption of news or to think positively. “What happens is that they are pushing all their worries in the subconscious mind, but this is the flip side of it.”
Listen to some first-person testimonies about bizarre dreams during the Covid-19 outbreak:
A few steps to prevent coronavirus anxiety-driven dreams
As we are still not able to control dreams unless engaging in lucid dreaming practices, dream analyst Anderson suggests focusing on some daytime activities to improve the quality of our sleep:
- Start with a good sleep routine. Try to go to bed around the same time every day and make yourself as relaxed as possible before falling asleep.
- Think with acceptance. Reality is outside of our control and we should not overstress about it. Rather, ask yourself throughout the day “what are the positives of this?”
- Keep a journal in which to write down concerns, fears and conflicts troubling the mind.
- Do daily exercise and make it a sensory experience. Meditation is also effective to increase a sense of calm and presence.
However, it is crucial to remember that “dreams always try to problem solve us and give us ideas on how to cope with emotions,” as Anderson pointed out. So, if we are listening, they might become particularly valuable in the current situation. Even the bad ones.