In addition to daily stress, COVID-19 has also made our dreams worse

Key points

  • In a survey released in October 2020, more than half of the respondents said they slept more, but 26% had nightmares.
  • Nightmares are often related to epidemic-related topics, such as fear of being infected.
  • Experts suggest that focusing on sleep quality means developing habits to reduce stress, such as using mindfulness exercises.

A study showed that although people tend to sleep more during the COVID-19 lockdown, many people report that they wake up more frequently at night and have nightmares when they fall asleep. Frontiers of Psychology.

Finnish researchers used crowdsourcing to find study participants during the Finnish blockade, and there were 4,275 respondents. Among them, 811 shared their dream content. Overall, about half of people report that they sleep much longer than before the pandemic, but nearly 29% have interrupted sleep and 26% often have nightmares.

Those who are willing to share the details of the nightmare also shared a common theme, which is what keeps them healthy. Not surprisingly, pandemic-specific dreams are the most reported, accounting for 55%. These include:

  • Be infected and/or control the disease
  • Fear that others show a lack of social distancing in their dreams
  • Older friends or family members are in trouble

The researchers also pointed out that for those who report increased stress in daily life, nightmares are more frequent and more vivid.

W. Christopher Winter, MD

When it comes to sleep difficulties, there is no single strategy for everyone. Usually, this boils down to the development of some beneficial habits, such as not watching the screen before going to bed, regular exercise, and daily meditation and other stress-reducing exercises.

— W. Christopher Winter, MD

How trauma triggers nightmares

Among people affected by terrible events, the increase in nightmares is certainly nothing new. Previous studies have pointed out that this phenomenon occurs whenever the public’s health and well-being is threatened or daily life changes.

Past research has shown that nightmares proliferate during wars, terrorist attacks, early epidemics, and other widespread infectious diseases.

For example, a study of nearly 24,000 interviewees found that after the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001, men, especially men between the ages of 10 and 29, had more nightmares. These researchers found that for some people, nightmares persist even after two years.

Dreams often include events from the previous day (daily residual effect) and one week ago (dream lag effect). Recent studies have pointed out that if the pressure continues to rise, this combination in a persistent environment such as a pandemic may become the fuel for nightmares.

Sleep problems mean health problems

Recent research on dreams adds to other studies of the past six months that have highlighted the challenges of sleep during COVID-19.

For example, a study conducted by The Better Sleep Council in March compared the results with their sleep study in January each year.Within the three-month time frame, 9% of Americans believed that their sleep was poor or average—52% in total—and the number of people who said they often felt well-rested fell by 6% (from 30% to 24%). % ).

In the short term, lack of good sleep may cause fatigue and irritability, but the long-term effects should prompt people to take action to change healthy sleep patterns. Chronic sleep disorders are related to the following factors:

  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Memory problem
  • Short life
  • Weak immune system
  • Higher risk of diabetes
  • Low libido
  • Balance problem

Focus on quality and routine

Dr. Christine Blume, a sleep scientist at the Swiss Center for Time Biology, said that for those with sleep problems (including nightmares), more attention should be paid to sleep quality. This can be achieved through a variety of strategies. Try these to dispel nightmares and get more rest:

  • Don’t read news and provocative social media posts before bed, as this will affect your cortisol level, which is a hormone related to your stress response.
  • Even if your job is flexible, establish a fixed bedtime and wake-up time, because this can help you prepare for sleep.
  • Consider practicing mindfulness or meditation. Applications like Headspace or Calm can help with guided visualization.
  • Write down your anxiety and worries throughout the day so that it is easier to “let go” before bed, even if they are ongoing challenges.
  • Exercise regularly, as this has been proven many times to help improve sleep quality, including deep sleep.
  • The first thing in the morning is to go outside, because this will help your body clock to be set correctly and be rewarded with a refresher sleep later that night.
  • Write down your dreams, if they are particularly disturbing, and how you feel in the dream. Seek professional help to resolve any anxiety, depression, or stress you may encounter.

Tailor your approach

According to W. Christopher Winter, MD, Chair of Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Charlottesville and author of Sleep Solutions, behaviors like this will bring you closer to a healthy sleep cycle. When this happens, it can bring greater rest and reduce stress, which may help eliminate nightmares.

“When it comes to sleep difficulties, no one strategy works for everyone,” he said. “Usually, the bottom line is to develop some beneficial habits. If you have not found a method that suits you, please continue to try different strategies, if it has a negative impact on your life, please seek professional help, such as sleep medicine expert.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may receive updated information while reading this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our Coronavirus News page.


In addition to daily stress, COVID-19 has also made our dreams worse
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