Dreams and Nightmares during the Pandemic: A Side Effect of Anxiety

May 15, 2020
Nightmares. Vivid dreams. Waking up panicking... The pandemic is disrupting our sleep and influencing our dream world with recurring dreams. However, science has an explanation for these dreams and nightmares during the pandemic.

Many people have been getting worried about their dreams and nightmares during this pandemic. Many people are suffering from disrupted sleep patterns during the current situation.

This has an impact on our health, both physically and psychologically. As far as the dream world is concerned, and these types of sleep disorders, it’s quite a common phenomenon that has its own explanation.

In recent weeks, there have been many testimonies on social networks from people talking about the bad dreams they’re having. Some describe terrible nightmares that wake them up in the middle of the night. Others talk about suffering from night terrors or vivid dreams.

Two common elements among those who describe these experiences are the anguish they feel and how real the dreams seem to them.

The symbolic setting of that inner universe is a perfect area for many of our emotions and thoughts to emerge, often transformed into nightmares.

Factors such as the fear of contagion, sadness over human loss, the stress of confinement, and one’s own uncertainty about the future are creating the foundation for these bad dreams that so many people seem to be suffering from.

Let’s have a closer look at all of this to discover why it’s happening.

Dreams and nightmares during confinement, a common experience

Pandemic dreams. This is the name that experts have given to these nighttime sleep disorders that both children and adults are suffering from.

First of all, one thing we need to clarify is that this phenomenon isn’t supernatural. Instead, we’re dealing with an expected, logical, and totally normal phenomenon.

To help us to understand it better, there’s something else we need to be clear about: emotions always look for an escape valve. Everything that happens around us will affect us in one way or another, thus creating fear, restlessness, sadness, and worry, to name just a few.

So, these biological impulses and emotions, in turn, have an impact on the body and the conscious and unconscious mind. So much so that, in the current pandemic context, we’re beginning to see the effects we explain below.

The relationship between anxiety and nightly rest

The Shanghai Mental Health Center in Shanghai, China has been reporting on poor quality nighttime sleep for months now.

Psychiatrists are also reporting on the great wave of anxiety disorders that people are suffering as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

King’s College London also recently conducted a survey to assess how people are coping with confinement and the pandemic situation. More than 50% have experienced distress, fear, and anxiety. 38% have also suffered from disturbed sleep. And, finally, 47% have needed expert help at some point from mental health professionals.

As we can deduce, at a psychological level, the coronavirus health crisis is having an immense impact. Because of this, it’s practically inevitable that this will affect our sleep quality, and that the dreams and nightmares during confinement will be particularly frightening and distressing.

Interrupted sleep and the disturbance of the REM phase

The vivid dreams and nightmares during confinement are mostly related to the REM phase, which is when we get deep sleep. The main problem is that this phase is often being disrupted. We wake up frequently and don’t get much restorative sleep.

When we reach the REM phase, our brains usually activate our emotions, and these filter into the dreams and nightmares, which we experience at this stage.

The most common type of parasomnia in the current pandemic is with people suffering from sweats, tachycardia, and waking up in the middle of a bad dream panicked and distressed, even screaming.

According to Dr. Patrick McNamara, a Boston University professor and sleep hygiene expert, REM sleep often has another purpose. This purpose is to allow negative emotions to be released. REM sleep lets them emerge in order to relieve the tension we tend to accumulate.

Nightmares, the prelude to post-traumatic stress disorder

The Italian Association of Sleep Medicine is currently conducting a study on nightly rest and nightmares during confinement. For example, there are numerous examples of dreams of people suffering from the illness, about the loss of family members, about an apocalyptic future, and, curiously, also about pollution and possible natural disasters.

According to Dr. Luigi Gennaro, professor of physiological psychology at the Sapienza University of Rome, all these parasomnias are effects of what will soon become post-traumatic stress disorder.

What can we do to improve our sleep?

Sleep helps us face the day with greater calm, well-being, and strength. However, the current situation that we’re experiencing often means that, in many cases, we go to bed in a mental haze, full of worry and anguish. It’s not surprising that these emotions filter into our dream world and cause these parasomnias to appear.

Bad dreams and nightmares during confinement are simply one more effect of the pandemic itself. We can all suffer from them, as they’re quite normal.

Can we prevent them from appearing? The answer is no but we can reduce their occurrence and enjoy a more restful sleep. Here are some key tips to help you:

  • Accept all your emotions. Feeling fear, sadness, and anguish is normal and understandable. Share your fears with someone you trust, and keep a journal where you can release what you’re feeling in your inner world.
  • Look after your routine. Always get up and go to bed at the same time and avoid taking long naps.
  • Turn off your electronic devices two hours before bed.
  • Help your mind rest and relax by reading a book or taking a nice bath. Also, make sure that your room isn’t too warm and use lavender essential oils.

In conclusion, if you’ve reached your limit and don’t know what to do, the best thing for you to do is ask for expert help. Bad dreams and insomnia are normal consequences of the current pandemic, but you owe it to yourself to do everything you can to feel better.