Dreaming of a restless COVID-19 slumber?

For millions of people, the current coronavirus pandemic has been the stuff that dreams are made of. Or in many cases, nightmares.
Called “quarandreams,” “pandemic dreams” or “COVID dreams,” scores of folks are reporting an increase of dreams and also remembering them more often than they ever have.

A search for #pandemicdreams on Twitter reveals myriad recollections of bizarre dreams.

“I ordered a margarita that was worth $15 from a 14-year-old bartender and then I grabbed canned tuna and put it into my cocktail,” said one commenter.

A man who identifies himself as a firefighter said, “I had a dream last night that a plane exploded/crashed over my parents’ house. I told my dad to go find the wreckage and clear a path with his tractor while I got my medical bag. When I came out with my bag, bodies were raining down from the sky, all still alive.”

Dr. Neil S. Kaye, a psychiatrist based in Hockessin, past president of the Psychiatric Society of Delaware and a member of the Medical Society of Delaware’s Committee on Ethics and also the society’s Government Affairs Committee, says that, from a scientific standpoint, no one really knows why people dream in the first place.

“But the thinking is that dreams allow us to process various scenarios about life in a safe environment. So we can try on different roles and we can imagine different things. But we’re asleep so we’re safe,” he said.

“The vivid dreams that people are having related to COVID and the pandemic, we really believe are fear-driven. And what’s interesting is that people are remembering more of the dreams and talking about them more.”

But to understand why this is happening, there are a couple things about dreaming that people get wrong, he said.

“People associate dreaming with deep sleep. REM sleep, which stands for rapid eye movement, is very close to being awake. It’s basically their eyes dancing behind their eyelids. It’s not a deep sleep. When you are in deep sleep stages three and four, you actually don’t dream,” Dr. Kaye said.

“And if the content of the dream is frightening, you’re more likely to awaken. And if you awaken, and stay awake and remembered right at that time, you’re much more likely to remember the dream longer and be able to discuss it.”

“Most of us have three to five dream cycles per night, and we won’t remember our dreams. You can ask the person, ‘What did you dream about last night?’ and they have no idea. They’ll say, ‘I don’t even think I did dream.’ But we know that they did. But if you don’t awaken, you don’t really remember your dreams. And actually, you’re most likely to awaken in the morning from a REM cycle. So your last dream of the night is really what you tend to have the most fragments available to you.”

Vivid dreams

Melissa Brenner of Dover says she and her 14-year-old daughter Julianna are both experiencing these types of dreams.

Ms. Brenner has been having many vivid dreams about houses and stairs and having nowhere to go, while being trapped in a maze with shadowy figures.

“Tuesday night I dreamt I was at some kind of paradise camp place but had to return to my normal life and I was back in the house maze. It was (filled with) never-ending hallways with dark shadows and I was getting older,” she said.

“The paradise (part) was in vivid color. The return to home was in sepia tone.”

She said her daughter’s dreams “start out awesome and fun and before she wakes up, they get dark.”

Ms. Brenner said that often her dreams begin the same way. She thinks they are mainly caused by the stay-at-home order while her daughter has a different take.

“Julianna thinks it’s about losing contact with others,” she said.

“My daughter has to tell me about her dreams each morning before anything. Hers are super lucid.”

Dr. Kaye said it’s very natural to remember your scariest dreams which, in this precarious time, is the predominant kind that people seem to be having.

“Dreams that are very frightening, we try to wake up from because we want to end the fear. So people will often dream of something bad happening, but they wake up before they get killed — before the last scene ever plays. And so, obviously what we’re seeing with COVID is a level of uncertainty in our world that we’ve never experienced in our lifetime. A lot of people want to deny that but I think it’s pretty clear from a medical science perspective. We’ve never seen a pandemic, never seen a plague, like this. This is sure far bigger than anything else we’ve seen before. And so people are anxious or fearful about it,” he said.

Another source of the dreams, Dr. Kaye believes, is the abundance of news available concerning the pandemic.

“You can only process so much information at a time in your dreams. And if basically the amount of information you have to process overwhelms you, your dreams become nightmares and you are more likely to awaken,” he said.

“So, these dreams represent people being overwhelmed even in their sleep with what’s facing them in their lives, the decisions they’re having to make, the information they have to process. Is it safe, is it not safe? How do we reconnect in some safe way when this all settles down? Some will worry about a second wave. What’s that going to look like? Do I believe Trump or do I believe Fauci? All this stuff. If you go into the dream material, it becomes fairly easy to see that what we are looking at is fear.”

Dreams website

San Francisco-area resident Erin Gravley and her sister Grace Gravely have a website called “I Dream Of Covid” that has visitors from all over the world submitting their recent sleep stories.

As of Wednesday, the site had received around 2,200 submissions from people in over 60 countries.

“Ten days into the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order, I had a pretty vague dream, typically vague, in that I couldn’t really remember any of the details. Except I realized that the characters in my dream had been social distancing: meeting but not shaking hands, standing far apart from each other. Wow, I thought. That was quick. It hadn’t taken long at all for the changes in day-to-day life to fall into the churn of the unconscious,” said Erin Gravley on the website.

A submitter on the site from Delaware, who identified him or herself as being between 10 and 19 years old, offered up this dream last week.

“I dreamt I was brushing my teeth before bed, and then my teeth started falling out. I then went to my mom about it, and she became very alarmed. She said to me that losing teeth was a symptom of COVID, and that I needed to isolate in my room immediately. If losing teeth has ever been a symptom, then thankfully it was just a dream, so far.”

Erin Gravley told the Delaware State News in an email last week that she and her sister have been amazed by the popularity of the website.

“The reaction to the project has been so overwhelming, surprising and satisfying. We never expected this many responses and certainly not an international presence. However, such volume and variety of dreams really contributes to the project and makes it substantive. So we are very grateful.

“We have also had people tell us in messages that they find real comfort in the website, in reading others’ dreams. This is not anything we ever could have predicted, but that is a significant response to the website for which we are also grateful.”

Dr. Kaye says outlets such as this can be “therapeutic.”

“It normalizes people who discover that there are lots of other people who are having dreams similar to mine so therefore mine aren’t so crazy. So I’m not crazy. So there’s a benefit in that,” he said.

“And also when you are talking about things that are frightening, our recommendation is to talk about it. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s a good thing.”

Skip the nightcap

Those who are looking for a way to shake these dreams may not like Dr. Kaye’s final note.

“There’s a suggestion that people are drinking alcohol later at night and alcohol impairs deep sleep and contributes to this REM phenomena. So poor sleep, hygiene, being off schedule and increased alcohol consumption will contribute to this occurring,” he said.

Sweet dreams — if you can.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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