Our dreams during this pandemic

A group of friends in Columbia were out walking recently, at least six feet apart, when one shared his dream from the previous night. 

“Normally I do not remember my dreams upon waking, but twice recently I have dreamed that I tested positive for the virus.  They told me there was nothing they could do for me.  Each time, I woke showing some of the signs of Covid: shortness of breath, sweating, etc. but it went away in a few moments after waking.” 

Dreams during sleep associated to the coronavirus are occurring worldwide right now while many of us continue to self-isolate.

Common themes include:

  • Dreams about public gatherings
  • Survivalist, pop culture-inspired dreams
  • Missing snacks
  • A return to childhood
  • A mysterious figure

During one week in April, Google searches for “Why am I having weird dreams lately?” quadrupled.  Rather than realistic scenes, these dreams are more like a cartoon than realistic, showing a shift toward metaphor with outlandish characters or action. 

Berkley Clinical Psychologist Dr. Alan Seigel says that nightmares are not always bad, but can be a warning of unconscious anxieties.  “Moderate, occasional nightmares, even if they’re really distressing, could be a sign that we are actually coming to terms and find a resolution.”  

Since the early 1990’s, I have recorded hundreds of my dreams in journals and can spot the pandemic’s influence in my own dreams now.  

  • After two weeks of isolation, a short dream ended: “I’m completely alone in a foreign, unfamiliar place.  Now I’m afraid!  Fear wakes me up.” 
  • A few nights later my dream seemed like a time-warp back to the 1918 Spanish Flu. 
  • My most recent recorded dream was in a small classroom with little children. I know they are there because of the Pandemic! 

At least five research teams at institutions across multiple countries report that “pandemic dreams are being colored by stress, isolation and changes in sleep patterns containing negative emotions in place of typical dreaming.” 

In France, Perrine Ruby of the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center reports the virus has led to a 35% increase in dream recall. 

The Italian Association of Sleep Medicine reports many nightmares and parasomnias similar to PTSD with more sleep disturbances and problems among people closer to the epicenter.  

They explained that, “Reducing or restricting everyday memories by being stuck in quarantine may limit content of dreams or cause the subconscious to reach deeper memories.” 

The International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) which had documented over 600 coronavirus pandemic dreams by mid-April, 2020, included one from IASD’s president, Dr. Angel Morgan.  She reported distinctly hearing these words during her recent “lucid dream” in which she was asleep but simultaneously conscious as if awake.

“This is not a time to give in! This is a time to build strength from within!”

San Francisco resident Erin Gravley created a unique website, “I dream of Covid” (idreamofcovid.com) as well as Twitter’s #pandemicdreams and #Covidnightmares, explaining:  

“Ten days into the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, I had a pretty vague dream, except I realized that the characters in my dream had been social distancing: meeting but not shaking hands, standing far apart from each other. It hadn’t taken long at all for the changes in day-to-day life to fall into the churn of the unconscious.”

Gravley began her collection of current pandemic-related dreams after she read “The Third Reich of Dreams”, a book filled with dreams collected almost 90 years ago in Nazi Germany by author Charlotte Beradt.

Almost a century ago, Charlotte Beradt wrote: “Throughout all time, people have experienced terrifying dreams, dreams not only touched off by some external crisis of a personal nature or originating in the inner tensions of singularly sensitive persons, but brought about by situations that threaten people collectively.”

Today, with shut-downs, quarantines, a constant stream of scary news scenarios, it’s time to check our own thoughts and feelings about how we can stay safe, maintain our normal state-of-mind and revive our sense of humor and equilibrium!  Pay attention to your dreams and maintain a hopeful sense of humor.

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Susan Hendricks offers guided writing groups in Columbia, SC as a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Journal Therapist and Dream Group Leader. Her 25 years of study and practice include eight years leading weekly dream groups at a women’s Maximum Security Prison. 

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