Is the Coronavirus Pandemic Causing Our Dreams to Become More Intense?


Jonas Geschke / UnSplash

Native Americans believed in the importance of dreams and believed that they are an extension of reality. They believed that making dreamcatchers would catch any bad spirits and bad dreams, and that the dreamcatchers would only allow the better dreams to pass through.

Due to being quarantined at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have reported that they are having more vivid dreams than ever before. Scientists have already begun to confirm the link between a quarantine lifestyle and detailed dreams — and for good reason — as this sudden change in our lifestyle is causing such a phenomenon.

For starters, studies have shown that, on average, only 65% of Americans get an adequate amount of sleep every night, resulting in common sleep deprivation. The American average for sleep is around seven and a half hours, and while that might seem sufficient, in reality that does not account for the 35% of Americans who report having poor sleep. Poor sleep can involve restlessness, getting up at night, intense nightmares, difficulty staying asleep, and generally not feeling like the quality of sleep was sufficient.

According to The Scientific American, sleep deprivation increases sleep intensity by increasing brain activity during sleep. As a result, simply catching up on an extra few hours of sleep is enough to raise the intensity of our dreams; more sleep also means more time in the REM cycle, which is when dreams take place. Many Americans have also reported catching up on sleep during the Coronavirus pandemic and sleeping naturally, meaning that their body wakes up on its own. “Before the pandemic, I would go to sleep at 12 midnight or 1 a.m. easily. Now, I’m in bed by 10 p.m and sleeping by 10:30 p.m.,” said Eldisa Rosario ’22. Waking up without an alarm helps sleep to continue undisturbed by outside distractions. Alarms also have an 80% chance of catching another stage of sleep where you are not dreaming, disrupting the sleep cycle as a result. Simply changing one’s sleeping patterns is causing an outbreak in increased dream activity.

Our major change in lifestyle is the primary reason why many people are experiencing more vivid dreams. Another factor is our limited movement compared to life before the Coronavirus pandemic. Most everything is now done virtually, and many people have lost their sense of time and scheduling. With plans cancelled and places closed, we are confined to our homes. Long daily commutes and spontaneous changes during the days and weeks to keep us excited are gone. As a result, our brains are reaching further than they normally would during sleep, in order to “unlock” deeper memories to fill in the void. As The National Geographic reported, “…withdrawal from our usual environments and daily stimuli has left dreamers with a dearth of ‘inspiration,’ forcing our subconscious minds to draw more heavily on themes from our past.” In simpler words, our brains are yearning for something more fulfilling, making our dream quality a lot richer.

Pandemic-induced trauma affects the contents of a lot of dreams. Traumatic events have affected the way people dream throughout history. Examples of such occurrences exist in the aftermath of 9/11, where survivors had many nightmares pertaining to the events that happened or were going on around them. Images of falling buildings repeatedly in their nightmares. However, with the Coronavirus pandemic, we are experiencing an invisible threat. Harvard Dream Researcher, Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D, author of The Committee of Sleep, briefly explains some of her research on her interview on TODAY news. Dr. Barrett explains that  many people report having dreams of natural disasters, bug attacks, zombie apocalypse, sick people and death, which are all believed to be representations of the Coronavirus. There are also other traumas that people are experiencing as a result of the pandemic, making their dreams reflect those as well. Eldisa Rosario ’22 is one of many to experience such nightmares. “They have become more vivid and more related to death. I have had more ‘falling into a deep hole’ dreams. No longer do I have those happy dreams,” Rosario said. Randall Dominguez ’22 notes, “Pre-pandemic, I used to have a dream, and I woke up and thought nothing of it, but now I wake up, and I’m confused sometimes, because the dream was extremely vivid and felt super real.”

Now why do we dream? What is their significance? While we may not be able to get an exact measurement and reasoning, scientists have theorized as to why we as people experience dreams and the different types of dreams that we have when we are sleeping. It is believed that we dream in order to retain important information and memories, and to rid ourselves of the useless ones. Others have theorized that dreams help prepare us for real life by putting us in difficult situations in order to challenge our brain to figure out how to conquer them. “In many of my dreams, I will have to face one of my fears, whether it is insects, heights, or drawing. Interestingly enough, in all of my dreams, I always beat these fears, and it feels like I have full control of my body. The fear in these dreams certainly feels real, and I never realize that I’m dreaming,” said Jensy Jiminez ’22.

If your current dreams are posing a problem, as they are for many, there are some solutions that can help to improve the quality of your dreams over time. Some involve leaving a positive image, imagination, or memory in your head before going to bed. Others propose attempting to ‘lucid dream,’ to give you more control over what you are dreaming of throughout the night, especially if you are part of the group that suffers from chronic nightmares. Scientists and dream experts have also provided resources in order to help you to improve your sleep and avoid nightmares, and they provide methods on how to ‘lucid dream.’ After all, our sleep and what we dream of is more important than we may think, and it affects us throughout our day. And maybe when the Coronavirus pandemic is over, our dreams will mostly return to more peaceful ones, too.

“Pre-pandemic, I used to have a dream, and I woke up and thought nothing of it, but now I wake up, and I’m confused sometimes, because the dream was extremely vivid and felt super real,” said Randall Dominguez ’22.