Why the Weird Dreams during COVID-19? Experts Explain
Since the beginning of this pandemic our daily lives have gradually turned into nightmares. What was once normal is now abnormal, and the new abnormal can be absolutely terrifying. With most people home every hour of every day, our eyes are continuously glued to our computers and television screens, which are all broadcasting a steady stream of breaking COVID-19 news. Our internal hard drives have become overloaded with too much — and often confusing — coronavirus information. In fact, it’s become such a big part of our lives that it’s now creeping into our dreams while we try to sleep at night and social distance our minds from the constant insanity for a mere seven or eight hours. Our new daytime reality has become the stuff of our own nightmares.
Ten days after the Bay Area enacted its shelter-in-place order, Erin Gravley had a dream. It wasn’t detailed, but it stood out for how it emulated the realism of her new day-to-day life in Marin County, Calif. In her dream, people were standing six feet apart. They were meeting, but not shaking hands. A year earlier, Gravley had read Charlotte Beradt’s The Third Reich of Dreams, a collection of dreams from people living during Hitler’s reign in Germany. Beradt tracked the effect that authoritarianism and terror in Nazi Germany had on the country’s dreamers. She found that the dreams of those under oppression were notably changed. Some of them even had the same kinds of dreams as each other. Inspired by Beradt’s work and the reality that, as a collective, our new nightmares are echoing the strange reality of our times, Gravley decided to start a website called www.idreamofcovid.com. She says, “I was curious to know how the anxieties of the moment would translate to our dreams.”
Below are a sample of the dreams that people from around the world have posted on Gravley’s website.
April 2, 2020 | Memphis | 20-29 years
My sister-in-law is pregnant with her first baby and due on April 24th. She has been handling all of the stress pretty well but has been feeling nervous about the possibility of not having anyone in the delivery room with her. I had a dream that I was in the delivery room with her. It was a large, cinder block room with no windows. My sister-in-law and the doctor were in one corner of the room and I was in another corner. My ‘job’ in this dream was to repeatedly sterilize everything that the doctor needed. I stood in my corner of the room — with my corner sink — washing ‘tools’ and equipment. I kept reassuring the doctor that I was also washing my hands, while washing all of the medical supplies.
April 26, 2020 | Eastern Panhandle | 40-49 years
I am in the very expensive Manhattan apartment of a financial advisor. She manages retirement plans. She is currently working from home because of the quarantine. She has many small children at home with her. She is dressed very professionally. Their apartment and bedrooms are exquisitely decorated. I am there with others, and we are all paying for her counsel on how to rebalance our retirement accounts, and not lose everything due to the economy crashing because of the pandemic. It’s clear that she is going to take a huge cut of our savings. We are all extremely uncomfortable and feel anxious, but don’t know what else to do other than go to her and pay her to try to salvage what she can of our retirement savings.
March 20, 2020 | Canada | 20-29 years
I dreamt we went to a local bar to get food for takeout since all restaurants had been mandated to close or only offer takeout and delivery. When I went inside to order, the owner smiled, winked and said, “I’ll let you dine in if you can keep it a secret.” He had shuttered blinds on all the windows so nobody could see people dining in and breaking the law. As soon as we sat down to eat, an angry city inspector warned us we were illegally eating at the restaurant. We jumped up and pretended to be ordering food for takeout but our food was already at our table with cutlery and drinks.
April 12, 2020 | Mumbai | 20-29 years
My grandfather had passed away almost two years ago. The dream was that my uncle and the entire village has been infected with corona because they did not cut the nails of my grandfather before cremating him.
WHAT DO OUR DREAMS MEAN?
Kimberly Fenn, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab, explains to Bustle magazine why we dream: “Dreams are a unique state of consciousness in which individuals experience vivid perceptual images, emotions and other sensory content. These vivid images are impacted by your stress levels which may be especially high right now.” She indicates that your recent spate of strange dreams likely has to do with the pressure and anxiety the current pandemic is bringing into our midst. She adds, “One consequence of extreme stress is that during sleep, individuals are more likely to stay in lighter stages and more likely to wake up in the middle of the night. When you startle awake mid-dream, you stand a better chance of remembering it.”
WHY YOU’RE HAVING COVID-19 NIGHTMARES?
Dr. Christine Celio, PhD, national clinical director of mental health integration at One Medical, a membership-based primary care practice, discusses with Bustle why we’re all having COVID dreams: “Right now, we are more often reaching for media such as television, movies or podcasts and those can have an impact on our imaginations and dreams, especially when consumed before bed.” If you want to avoid nightmares about the current pandemic situation, you might want to avoid watching the film Contagion and view some old Seinfeld episodes instead before tucking yourself in.
STOPPING THE PANDEMIC DREAMING
While you can’t stop washing your hands a hundred times a day, you may be able to stop pandemic dreams to an extent. Dr. Fenn suggests taking a time-out from your devices for at least 30 minutes before bedtime. In addition, Dr. Fenn recommends keeping your bedroom cool, relaxed and quiet, which may halt the nightmarish dreams. Also, Dr. Fenn stresses that working out during the day and meditating may be helpful.
Dr. Celio proposes other remedies to combat pandemic nightmares, include cutting back on alcohol before bed. She also mentions, “Putting together a journal where you jot down your dreams and how they potentially relate to your own anxieties might help you fill in some blanks.”
The truth is, as a society, we’re going through something no one has experienced since the Spanish flu over a hundred years go. Every action, interaction and response is basically brand new. My dad was a psychiatrist and he would always tell me, whatever the traumatic situation was, “kid, this will pass.” And perhaps if we keep repeating this mantra to ourselves, it’ll lower our anxiety levels and hopefully our nightmares will turn into dreams while we sleep.