This year, countless people around the world – myself included – have reportedly been experiencing extremely vivid and disturbing dreams, so much so that researchers have embarked on studies of what they call ‘pandemic dreams’. Sigmund Fried understood dreams as a “symbolic process that helps us work through the struggles we face in our waking lives” and, although I like to find the evidence for this by recounting my dreams to people I am close to, these latest ones are a bit too weird to approach in that way.
Assistant Professor Deidre Barrett (Dept Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School) has been documenting dream patterns during the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown and has identified significant clusters of dream content. Metaphors that feature range from catching the virus, being locked up (often in prison), being engulfed in swarms of bugs and being hit by hurricanes! Expert opinion is that there is a correlation between our wakeful well-being and what we dream about at night. Nightmares can be indicators of underlying stress, and baseline stress, brought on in this case by social distancing and isolation, has been a common experience during 2020.
On top of this, sleep patterns have altered for many as daily routines have gone haywire. For some, this has meant a decrease in physical activity, resulting in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep has increasing, the result of which is an enhanced recollection of dreams.
We may all have to live with the pandemic for a while yet, but we can make efforts to reduce our stress and re-establish a daily drill. Here are five things to try.
- Get outside. Exercise and spend time in nature.
- Check your sleep hygiene. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day and keep your bedroom at a cool temperature.
- Distance your tech. Limit your time online and curtail your news intake.
- Keep in touch. Make time to speak to or be with – even at a distance or on zoom – your supportive, positive people.
- Have fun. Do more of the things you most enjoy.
If you want to find out more about why we dream, (though there is no definite answer, despite acres of research), check out Amy Adkins Ted Talk on the subject. Also, in Night Vision, Theresa Cheung explores what your dreams are telling you.
Meanwhile, I have decided to see my dreams as a positive expression of what is inside me. After all, they could be telling me something that I need to be aware of.