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Why Your Quarantine Dreams Are So Vivid

Woman sleeping on a bed floating out on a lake in a dreamy haze.

As the weeks of social distancing stretch into months, you might find that your dreams are more vivid and memorable than usual. What’s going on?

Right now, your dreams may not be specifically pandemic-related. But they’re probably still influenced by the pandemic: these unusual times can spark unusual subconscious reactions, giving you really intense dreams. Here’s why!

How Dreaming Changes in Times of Crisis

As it turns out, the current crisis isn’t alone in impacting people’s dreams. Strange, scary, and unexpected times often seem to trigger strange vivid dreams. For example, one study found that people’s dreams had a “significant increase in central image intensity” following the 9/11 tragedy.

It seems to make sense that the crises around us would creep in and haunt our minds even while we’re sleeping. However, we don’t yet know exactly why that happens, because we don’t yet know exactly why we dream. What we do know is that when we dream, the brain’s emotional center is really active, and its logical center slows down. So, emotions, such as those triggered by a pandemic, can play a significant role in our dreams.

Plus, while we don’t fully know why we dream, some theories do propose to explain it. The evolutionary theory of dreaming holds that dreams give us a safe space in which to learn how to face difficult situations. According to this theory, it would make perfect sense to have more intense dreams during difficult times.

Another theory is that dreams help us process daily information and emotions. In a time with lots of information and heightened emotions, we might be dreaming more as our brain works to process it all.

Remembering Your COVID-19 Dreams

It’s also possible that we’re not having more dreams (or more vivid ones) right now, but that we’re simply remembering them better. This would make it seem like our dreams have suddenly become more intense.

This increase in remembered dreams could be caused by the fact that the current stressful situation can disrupt sleep. If you wake up right after a dream, you’re more likely to remember it. So, if COVID-related anxiety is making you randomly wake up at night, this could lead to better-remembered dreams.

Of course, your sleep also might be disrupted for reasons that have nothing to do with anxiety. If you’ve experienced significant changes in your routine or home setting, you might not be sleeping as well, which also leads to more chances to wake up and remember your dreams.

Or, you might just be sleeping more (or later in the day) thanks to schedule changes, giving you more chances to dream.

What to Do with Your Quarantine Dreams

Woman writing down her dreams in a dream journal.
Wayhome Studios/Shutterstock

Because there haven’t been many periods of widespread social distancing in history, there isn’t much research yet on how it affects our dreams. In the future, this period of time could change that, giving us more research on how quarantines impact dreams.

Scientists are already starting to collect dream data, so we can learn from this time. In the meantime, though, you can learn a lot from your own dreams. Your weird coronavirus dreams can help you understand yourself better, check in with your feelings, and even connect with others. Here’s how.

Share Them Online

Start by checking out the “i dream of covid“ blog, which is currently collecting and publishing submissions of weird pandemic dreams. It makes for entertaining reading and a valuable reminder that you’re not alone. If you want, you can submit your own dreams to the blog.

Start a Dream Journal

For some people, this is a good time to start a dream journal, where you’ll privately record your dreams. Dream journals can be fun and relaxing to write, and fascinating to read again later. Interestingly, dream journals can actually help you remember your dreams even better.

Practice Lucid Dreaming

If you want to have fun with your dreams, or make them less scary, you could try lucid dreaming. You might want to pick up a book, like Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, which will walk you through getting started. If you like reading about dreams, many other interesting books also offer research-based ideas for understanding and learning from your dreams.

Try Dream Incubation

For a non-lucid way to take control over what you may dream about, you can also give dream incubation a try. Simply focus on what you’d like to dream about as you fall asleep, and you’ll increase your chances of dreaming about that topic. It sounds improbable, but research suggests that it actually works.

Talk to Your Loved Ones About Dreams

A weird dream can also make for a simple reminder to text a loved one that showed up in it, or who might find your dream interesting. Dreams are important for our brains, even though we don’t fully understand how or why. Social connection is important for our brains, too. So, if you’re dreaming more—or more interestingly—than usual, use it as a way to connect with other people in your life. Chances are, they’re having weird dreams, too.

Dreaming is one of the most fascinating things our minds can do. In times of high stress, this process only gets more interesting—and is probably more important. So, no matter what your dreams look like right now, this is an exciting chance to learn more about your brain’s innermost workings.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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