Been Having Weird Dreams Lately? Here's Why
As if real life isn’t crazy enough at the moment, many people have been reporting particularly vivid dreams since entering lockdown. This new phenomenon, coronavirus pandemic dreams, has been experienced by thousands of people across the globe. We spoke to A.H. Beard’s sleep expert Dr. Carmel Harrington to find out more about what is causing these dreams, and what we can do to avoid them.
Why is this happening?
“This is a very common phenomenon right now”, says Dr. Harrington. “I’ve heard from both the news as well as multiple friends’ first person accounts that people are having really weird dreams right now. This is directly linked to our increased levels of anxiety”.
There’s so much going on in the world right now, and not only are we being constantly bombarded with news, our sleep patterns and routine have been changed dramatically. Although we may not be aware of certain fears we have during this time, it is when we sleep that these anxieties can surface. “We’re hearing lots of reports of people having dreams about betrayal”, says Dr. Harrington. “How often during this isolation are we seeing someone doing something they’re not meant to be doing, and feel betrayed? If you’re following the rules and see others breaking them, this sense of betrayal could definitely seep into your dreams”.
While some are having more frequent nightmares, others are reporting unusually wacky and realistic dreams. Says Rebecca Renner, “With hundreds of millions of people sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic, some dream experts believe that withdrawal from our usual environments and daily stimuli has left dreamers with a dearth of ‘inspiration,’ forcing our subconscious minds to draw more heavily on themes from our past” (National Geographic 2020).
According to Dr. Harrington, our first stage of learning is when we’re exposed to things during the day. The next stage comes while we’re asleep, as your brain beds this new information down. Due to this global pandemic, we are in a very different situation to what we’ve ever been in, so at night the brain needs to encode this.
When the brain is encoding memory, it flicks through your memories and files the new ones away. For example: hospital memories. Each time you go to the hospital, you remember the other experiences you have had in hospital. This is because your brain has filed these memories away together.
While this encoding process is happening, the brain needs to think about where to file these memories so that next time we need to think about it we can access the memory quickly. So right now, as we sleep and our brain is filing away our new memories, they are more likely to be sifting through old times and digging up some crazy memories.
If you haven’t yet had any coronavirus dreams and are worried about it impacting your sleep, not to fear. According to dream experts, it is health-care workers and those with friends and family infected who are most likely to experience these pandemic-influenced dreams.
Dr Harrington’s tips to avoid coronavirus pandemic dreams:
Firstly, I’d recommend only looking at the news once a day. If you’re having nightmares or bizarre dreams, don’t look at the news at all once the clock hits 5pm. Select a certain time each day to catch up on current news, changing laws and any statistics you’re interested in. Try to avoid doing this first thing in the morning – read a book or listen to a podcast instead!
We also need to ensure that we’re being particularly diligent with our bedtime routine. By getting your head into a book that makes you laugh or relax, you’ll enter the relaxed/happy part of your brain before entering sleep.
Another thing you can do is really work on your bedtime rituals. If you’re suffering from pandemic-influenced dreams, introduce a guided yoga (check the Fitness First At Home portal (password: fitnessfirst) for some great stretching and yoga flows) into your nighttime routine. After a warm bath, turn off all technology and read a book for a while. Follow this up with some meditation, which can be done in bed and will guide you into sleep slowly and peacefully.