Vivid and strange – dreaming during Coronavirus
A good night’s sleep is very important to us at the best of times. Without a solid eight or nine hours, we may spend the day in a groggy, befuddled state, unable to be our usual efficient, sociable selves with work colleagues and friends. Take out the colleagues and friends and replace with a 24/7 life inside your own four walls and for many our slumbers have become a rather torrid affair.
A quick trawl through social media reveals that during the Coronavirus crisis our dreams have taken on a more bizarre, vivid and often frightening quality. From dreaming that the whole thing is a weird social experiment to dreams about celebrities chasing us around supermarkets, it seems as our waking lives become more monotonous, the hours we spend asleep are more action-packed than ever.
The feelings behind the statistics
We tend to dream about what has been playing on our minds during our waking hours. If our days are filled with thoughts of social distancing and the loss of the normal routines of life; financial considerations and health concerns; the uncertainty and unpredictability of this crisis, as they are now, it’s very likely there is a lot of powerful emotions going on as well behind it all.
So, without many of us knowing, behind the stream of consciousness surrounding the tragic statistics of COVID-19, there will be a lot of fear, anger, anxiety and stress. In addition to this, unless you do not have access to rolling news, you will probably have consumed a lot of objective information about the virus over the sixteen hours of waking life before bedtime. All of this will be waiting to be played out again for the next eight hours but in ways that are unpredictable and distressing for many.
REM sleep – a time to process emotions
Dreams, particularly vivid dreams, usually happen during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Sleep researchers have shown that it is the older mid-brain areas of the human brain such as the hippocampus and hypothalamus that are activated during this part of our sleep. These parts of the brain are implicated with powerful emotions such as fear, anger and anxiety – the very emotions we are experiencing during the day, albeit buried under more pressing routine thoughts about the current crisis.
It is in our dreams that these powerful emotions come alive and take on a more bizarre and vivid dimension. In weird and wonderful but also frightening scenarios, our brain is working during the night to process the stress that is held outside our consciousness during the day. So that when the morning comes around again, we are ready to face another fresh bout of lockdown with some of the more troubling emotions dealt with.
If you find that your sleep is interrupted by strange or disturbed dreams, you can create some sleep hygiene rules.
Limit news before bedtime
The last thing you need just before you enter dreamtime is the latest statistics on COVID-19 – by then anyway you will probably have digested enough information about it to last a lifetime! So, instead distract yourself with something totally unrelated to the present crisis on TV or a good read – just no dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels for now.
Writing about any anxieties you are experiencing during the day can give your mind a chance to deal with some of the emotional processing before you enter sleep mode, thereby reducing the need for your brain to elicit such extreme scenarios in your dreams.
Mindfulness can help you feel grounded during the day. A couple of times a day, take some time out to just enjoy the feel of an object or enjoy the scents and colours around you. Use your daily exercise to feel the ground under your feet and the wind in your hair. This will have the twin benefits of reducing stress and therefore having less of it to process at night.
Keep a sleep routine
Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time. This trains your body into a natural waking and sleeping cycle. It is very tempting at the moment if you do not have much to do to have a nap during the day, but this can make it harder to fall asleep at night and create a broken, disturbed night’s sleep.
Our lockdown dreams will soon pass. In the meantime, all we can do is concentrate on making our waking hours as stress-free as possible, so that when our unconscious takes over at night, we can have a more peaceful sleep. When this is all over, our lives will become more interesting again; and conversely our dreams will become more mundane. And that’s when we will really know it’s business as usual.