Everyone we talk to lately has been experiencing the same thing during sleep—wild, vivid stories and images playing out in our dreams, specifically while we’ve been self-quarantining. Even for those of us not sure that quarantine life has been the cause of extra duress—perhaps we’re even more relaxed at home than ever—the dreams persist.
Erica Spiegelman, author, addiction and wellness specialist, motivational speaker, and counselor, has been having crazy dreams too … about the virus itself, travel, and even adventure. While not all of us are blessed with fun, exciting dreams, she’s got a few theories.
Spiegelman believes our dreams are based on a mix of our subconscious and day-to-day life, which is what most of us tend to expect. However, she also tells us, “Dreaming is a powerful way we process intense experiences. Lately, most of us have had new experiences, a heightened sense of anxiety and emotion to everything and everyone around us.”
This non-optional time inside has forced us into being extra introspective, which can be a very intense situation for many. Spiegelman believes we are experiencing “new waves of positive and negative emotions. Some of us are spending more time with our family, or ourselves. We are learning and living new routines. Some of us are more isolated than others, and all this impacts our dreams!”
According to Dr. Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, “A recent poll of over 2,000 people showed that 53% of the audience has had an increase in vivid dreams since quarantine began, 21% of the audience have had an increase in nightmares, with at least one this past week, 45% of the audience has noticed a small difference in their sleep for the worse … and 29% have noticed a significant difference in their sleep for the worse.”
Dr. Breus also points out that dream recall has increased. This is important to note because anytime we hit REM sleep, we have dreams, but it doesn’t mean we are cognizant of them upon waking. However, remembering our vivid dreams has been occurring more and more, which, he points out, increases stress, even though our anxiety may already be up.
“As unwelcome as nightmares and disturbing dreams feel, they may be a sign of the brain doing some essential, important work to ease the intensity and emotional charge of our currently heavy daily load of stress and worry. Our nightmares can also serve the purpose of alerting us to anxieties we haven’t yet become aware of, or given name to,” Dr. Breus explains.
In fact, Dr. Breus brings to light that there is a lot of research around trauma and its relationship to dreaming and sleep. It shows that the more closely and directly people are affected by traumatic events, the more likely it is for their sleep to be disrupted and for nightmares to be intense. This is a reason that people with post-traumatic stress disorder get nightmares much more commonly. And in a way, in the midst of this life-altering global event teeming with dread and uncertainty, we are all collectively experiencing a sort of trauma.
Spiegelman also points out that there is a sense of mystery toward the future and what it holds. Of course, we have never been through a pandemic of this scale, and that may be compounding the anxiety and the trauma. It’s important to keep ourselves active and nourished so that our bodies have what we need to stay balanced and achieve restorative rest. It might be of value to keep a dream journal close by to record dreams and try to connect the dots. Once something feels like it makes more sense, it becomes a little simpler to rest easy.
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