By Michela Reinink
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are reporting experiencing an increase of bizarre, vivid dreams. Google searches for “weird dreams lately” have quadrupled worldwide since this time last year. The hashtag #pandemicdreams is being used on Twitter for people to share their dreams with others who are experiencing the same thing. But why are so many people experiencing unusual dreams all of a sudden?
Although there is no general consensus on the function of dreams, researchers have suggested that dreams are connected to conscious well-being. It has also been proposed by scientists that dreaming can be a way for the body to overcome intense emotion in the safety of subconsciousness. Nightmares can be seen as warning signs of anxiety in one’s life.
As millions of people stay at home due to COVID-19, sleep experts have suggested that the absence of our typical daily stimulus and changing environment has resulted in a lack of dream “inspiration”. This has therefore led to the subconscious mind drawing more heavily on themes from our pasts instead of dreams featuring content from our day-to-day lives.
One research team collecting pandemic dream examples have found that pandemic dreams are generally characterized by stress, isolation, and changes in sleeping patterns. They are differentiated from regular dreams by the accompanying swirl of negative emotions and their vivacity. The dream sleep state is thought to handle intense emotions, so this collective increase of strange dreams indicates that this pandemic has produced significant anxiety and stress worldwide. The world is in the midst of a global crisis unlike anything that most people have ever experienced before in their lifetime. It therefore stands to reason that stress levels are being increased worldwide to the level of affecting dreams.
There may be other factors besides stress levels that are contributing to this phenomenon of strange and vivid dreams. Changes in routine can also affect dreams, and there are many people who have suddenly been forced into a new and sometimes unsettling routine. Additionally, the need to stay at home means that some are getting more sleep than usual. Sleep cycles through phases, with dreams occurring in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase. Therefore, if people are getting more sleep, they will be experiencing more REM cycles, resulting in a heightened number of dreams experienced as well as an increase in the likelihood that dreams will be remembered.
The strange dreams that so many of us have been experiencing recently are a result of many factors. However, in such unusual times, this can be managed by keeping as close to a regular schedule as possible as well as employing stress-reduction methods.