Life Science Coronavirus dreaming: Why our nights are more vivid than usual

Coronavirus dreaming: Why our nights are more vivid than usual

Vivid dreams
If you've been experiencing some pretty wild dreams lately, you're not alone. Photo: Getty
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There’s an intriguing side effect of the coronavirus lockdown that’s creeping into people’s bedrooms: Vivid dreams.

Ask your friends, family, housemates: Are your dreams, like, normal?

Many people are reporting highly detailed, realistic and even intense dreaming.

Naturally, science has an answer.

Health psychologist and sleep specialist Moira Junge said vivid dreams were commonly reporting by people who were experiencing high levels of stress.

The coronavirus pandemic and all its associated knock-on effects arguably fits the bill of a stressful situation.

“They’re worried or threatened about something. They’re on guard. They’re thinking about something,” Dr Junge told The New Daily.

“I had some terrible dreams myself, weeks ago when the pandemic was really bad … my dreams were that 600 people a day were dying (of the coronavirus in the suburb I live). It was as bad as what was happening in Europe.

“Then I’d wake up in a sweat but then slowly realising it was half-true, the threat is still there.”

A three-pronged dream attack

Dr Junge said there were other factors at play that related to higher anecdotal reports of extreme dreams.

As well as the stress pushing our minds into new territory – resulting in more detailed dreaming – our sleep patterns are also likely contributors.

We’ve already ascertained most of us are more stressed than usually, which Dr Junge means we’re probably waking up more times during the night.

Because we’re waking up mid-dream, Dr Junge explained, we’re more likely to remember it.

“The other theory that I lean towards more – people are getting more opportunity for sleep, particularly the kind of sleep that is common for dreams,” the Melbourne-based clinician said.

A lot of us are sleeping later – we might be working from home, negating the need for an extra hour on the alarm for the commute, or, more unfortunately, be out of work due to the downturn.

“So when you have extended sleep – this particular sleep we call it REM– we have this extended dreaming and we think, ‘This is so good, I’m remembering my dreams again’,” Dr Junge said.

REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep, is the time of snoozing that is responsible for about 80 per cent of our dreaming.

Typically it’s the last half of our sleep, from about 3am onwards.

So if you normally wake at 6am, and now you’re sleeping in until 8am, you’ve got two more hours of dreaming.

She said people might also recall similar dream effects when they’re on holidays or in a new location.

Times of steep learning curves (new homes, new locations, new experiences) can also stimulate or intensify those REM periods.

So it’s the perfect storm for vivid dreams: A combination of a stressful experience, either disrupted or lengthened sleep patterns, and a whole new environment.

Actually good for some

Interestingly, Dr Junge noted, some of the patients she treats for insomnia has reported sleeping better than they ever have before during lockdown.

She said some of her clients have reported sleeping from 11pm to 7am for the first time in a year.

“For some it was a flash in the pan but they were quite relieved the pace of life was different; they didn’t have to go to that toxic workplace any more, etc – they felt vindicated for how stressed they were now that stress was gone,” Dr Junge noted.

“But most people are saying they’re very distressed with their sleep and it’s not the same quality of sleep they’re used to.”

If you are having trouble getting to sleep – and then staying asleep – here’s a piece we did last week on overcoming anxiety and catching 40 winks.

For those who are experiencing distressing, reoccurring dreams, there’s a method called Imagery Rehearsal Theory.

It’s used by sleep specialists – like Dr Junge – to help patients stave off persistent nightmares.

It involves the patient, during waking hours, playing out the nightmare in their head but changing the ending to make it less threatening.

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