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Monday, July 13, 2020

Strange dreams during social distancing

Why we might be experiencing strange and vivid dreams lately

Stress, among other factors, can lead to more vivid and sometimes bizzare dreams. Some are experiencing this due to the COVID-19 pandemic. // Illustration by Emma Toscani

By Kiana Doyle

From scary to downright strange, if the dreams you are having right now seem especially unusual and vivid, you are definitely not alone. During these uncertain times, there may be a variety of factors that are affecting the dreams we are having. 

Chloé Fleuret, a fourth-year student at Western, said she thinks the combination of sleeping and reading more has affected the dreams she has been having.

“This is definitely the best sleep I’ve had in my entire college career,” Fleuret said. “I’m also reading a lot more for fun, which I don’t usually have time for either.”

Fleuret said she usually does not remember her dreams, but lately, she has been able to recall them clearly and said she finds it bizarre.

Alicia Rule, a licensed independent clinical social worker and therapist at Rule and Associates in Bellingham, sometimes works with her clients to discuss and process the anxieties that might be present in the dreams they are having.  

Rule pinpoints a heightened sense of anxiety during these uncertain times as the main factor that is affecting our dreams.

“Some of the worries that we have about the virus itself, economic worries, changes in family structures, all the things that are happening with our day to day that feel really different, I think it’s coming out in our dreams,” Rule said.

She has encountered cases of these anxiety-induced dreams where the virus is depicted as some sort of scary and uncontrollable entity, such as a monster or large swarm of bugs.

On the other hand, Rule said, “Sometimes the dreams are actually just fascinating and not necessarily scary.” 

Fleuret described her dreams as vivid and chaotic, but said they have nothing to do with COVID-19.  

“Usually I’ll have stress-dreams about bio-chem, but now it’s whatever book I’m reading,” Fleuret said.

One dream Fleuret had recently took place in the 1940s after she had been reading “The Nightingale,” which takes place during World War II.

Fleuret said the first thing she does after waking up these days is run upstairs to tell her roommates about her dream.

“If you’re just having vivid COVID dreams, one of the good things to do is to say it out loud,” Rule said. “Just saying it out loud is enough to get it right out of your brain … and people usually are able to move on.”

Rule said recurring nightmares due to the pandemic can be a symptom of past traumas being triggered, and she suggested reaching out to a professional to explore the reasoning behind the nightmares.

Dr. Michael Breus, also known as The Sleep Doctor, is a clinical psychologist as well as a diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Specializing in sleep disorders and known for his many appearances on the Dr. Oz show, Breus also has a theory on what is affecting the dreams we are having.

Breus attributed the unusual dreams we might be experiencing these days to four main factors: a general increase in anxiety as the main contributor, as well as lack of movement, increase in alcohol and caffeine consumption, and the comfort foods we may be resorting to contributing to weight gain.

All of these factors decrease sleep quality and affect our dream content, Breus said.

The content in dreams is based on content from our own lives, Breus said, and he attributed the unusual vividness of the dreams we are having to the emotionality attached to the content that occurs in dreams.

“For example, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, and so a lot of people have stress surrounding that, and so that’s part of what’s kind of leaking into the dreams,” Breus said.  

Breus said that whether dreams are COVID-19 specific or not, there are often recurring themes of confinement, impending doom, or overarching fears in the dreams people have been experiencing during this time of social distancing. 

He suggests a successful way to shape the dreams you have into less stressful, more positive ones, with mindful, optimistic thinking before bed.   

“Having positive thinking before bed actually influences the content of the dream itself,” Breus said. “Being positive before bed actually not only helps you fall asleep more quickly, but gives you more positive dreams.”  

Brues offers a guide to sleeping well during the pandemic on his website.

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