Crazy Dreams in the Q: Explained

I’ve been having some crazy dreams recently, and I’m not someone who normally has exceptionally odd ones, or who remembers her dreams very frequently. When I’ve texted my friends about it, they’ve all said similar things. There are even trending Twitter Hashtags, #coronadreams and #pandemicdreams, and the google search “why am I having weird dreams lately” quadrupled in frequency from March to April (New York Times, April 2020). Clearly, the pandemic has been causing people to remember their vivid dreams much more. I was curious about why this is and whether there is a scientific or psychological explanation behind it. Below are some of my findings.

One explanation, written by Science Alert, attributes this occurrence to increased REM sleep. During our average seven to nine hours of sleep, the human body goes through a sleep cycle of varying stages of light and deep sleep. One of these stages is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is typically experienced in the latter half of one’s sleep, and is usually the stage during which highly emotive and visual dreams occur. Based on this knowledge, Science Alert has determined that during the pandemic, our REM dream periods have acted as a defense mechanism for our mental health. REM dreams provide us with a “simulated opportunity to work through our fears and to rehearse for stressful real-life events.” The change in how and when we sleep during quarantine, as well as the stressful events of the pandemic, has facilitated this. 

An alternative but similar explanation from National Geographic explains that dreams are our source and outlet for inspiration and creativity during a very repetitive, mundane quarantine. To support this claim, Nat Geo explains that dream content and emotions have always been a reflection of our mental health while we’re awake. When one has a peculiar dream with lots of symbolism, it allows that person to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious. To connect this to quarantine, Nat Geo says, “With hundreds of millions of people sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic, some dream experts believe that 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.”   

Long story short, it’s no coincidence that we’re all experiencing weird dreams together. The coronavirus has caused a monumental disruption of daily life, routines, comfort, sanity, and peace of mind. It’s likely that these strange dreams have been a sort of coping mechanism for us as we process and endure these changes. It’s also likely that our dreams are providing us with a sort of outlet for creativity––a “mix up” to the repetitive daily routine of quarantine, if you will. To be quite honest, I’ve started to look forward to my bizarre nightly adventures. The things my brain has been conjuring up with aren’t frightening like the nightmares that some have experienced. Rather, they’re a sort of peculiar conglomeration of many random details and people in my life that aren’t otherwise connected, molded into a somewhat believable and always entertaining situation that leaves me chuckling upon waking up. 

If you’ve also been experiencing peculiar dreams and want to put them to good use, The NYT reports that Harvard Medical School psychologist Deirdre Barrett  has spent the past four decades studying dreams, and her work is particularly pertinent right now. She has created a survey that you can fill out to help her gather dream data related to the pandemic.