Our brains are using memories, social media, and news to create vivid dreams during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Britney Blair, licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct faculty at Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, said people are having vivid dreams during the pandemic "because we don't have a specific visual to attach to this kind of collective trauma."
“As we’re processing this really bizarre global pandemic and the fallout from that, our brain is trying to process and understand the emotions associated with it,” Dr. Blair said. “One of the reasons I think we’re having this bizarre content and really vivid dreaming is because we don’t have a specific visual to attach to this kind of collective trauma.”
People don’t have a visual association with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is different from a car crash, for example, where a traumatized person might dream of the other car involved in the accident or being rushed to the hospital.
“We don’t have the same visual association,” Dr. Blair said. “As a result, our brain is having to pull from memory, maybe pulling from social media or all of this toxic news that we’re ingesting, to try to create the visuals associated with our current experience of this super weird time.”
Most dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Dreaming occurs because the brain is processing the day’s emotions and experiences.
“If you think about a favorite memory when you were a child, most of our memories have very intense positive or negative emotion at the time, but then when something is stored in long term memory, you remember it, but you don’t necessarily get a real time experience of the emotion that you did at the time of the original experience," she said.
People are also sleeping for longer periods of time during the pandemic. Dr. Blair said the average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
“If you’re sleeping more than your sleep need, what happens is, as your sleep quantity goes up, the sleep quality goes down,” she said. “This is one of the reasons we’re finding people remember their dreams more is because their sleep is more fragmented, so they’re waking up across the night.”
Dr. Blair said people aren’t exercising, moving environments, or getting as much brain stimulation as they did before the pandemic.
“As a result of those things, the quality of sleep goes down, which means repeatedly waking up during the night, and you’re more likely to remember your dreams," she said.
If you want to have less vivid or more positive dreams that don’t have anything to do with the pandemic, Dr. Blair suggests turning off all media 90 minutes before going to sleep. She also recommends maintaining a stable sleep schedule and keeping your bedroom as dark as possible.
“Turn on some music [and] read a good, old fashioned book that does not have any triggering or distressing content,” she said. “Then as you’re going to sleep, focus on what you want to be dreaming about, almost like a meditative state of ‘this is what I would like to be dreaming about.’”
Dr. Blair recently dreamed that she was looking through a catalog to find a bed. Although she wasn’t dreaming of the virus, getting infected, or wearing a mask, she made an educated guess and said this dream might have something to do with feeling trapped in her home. The fact that she was looking at a cagtalo instead of shopping online or visiting a store also demonstrates her longing to get away from technology since her usage has increased so much during the pandemic.
“By the end of the day, I don't want to look at my phone [or] my computer,” she said. “I'm doing Zoom meetings, and we're meeting with patients via Zoom all day. The last thing I want is another screen.”
If you’d like to document your dreams online, consider submitting an entry to the blog, i dream of covid.
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