Crazy dreams during Covid
Zombies chasing you down the street. Hospitals overflowing and turning people away. You’re at the grocery store naked and without a mask. What do all these have in common? They’re dreams people are having during the pandemic. Have your dreams been more vivid, strange and maybe even nightmarish lately?
If so, you’re in good company. I keep reading on social media and in the media about the crazy dreams people are having right now. Don’t worry, there’s an explanation. And if you’re having nightmares, I’ve got a few tips to turn those scary monsters into cuddly teddy bears.
First of all, let’s talk about dreams and why the heck we have them. We’ve been trying to use and understand dreams since the beginning of civilization. Many cultures practiced dream incubation, which is focusing attention on a specific topic when going to sleep. Images of dream incubation have been found in Paleolithic caves and ancient Egyptians and Greeks would sleep in temples to try to receive divine guidance.
More recently, psychologists and scientists have been trying to figure out why we dream. Freud believed that dreams represented our repressed thoughts. Carl Jung argued that they revealed your subconscious. Many people have tried to interpret their dreams throughout history.
Most of our dreams happen during the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. Dreams are the brain's way of processing information that we've taken in during the day. During deep sleep, your brain stores what it's learned. REM sleep, which happens after deep sleep, is when your brain catalogs all those pieces of information. It's connecting them together and trying to make sense of them, just like a puzzle where you start with all the pieces apart and then you fit them perfectly together.
Scientists believe that you process your emotions during REM sleep. Dr. Matthew Walker found that there’s zero noradrenaline in the body during REM sleep. This means that you dream without that stress chemical being there, allowing you to reprocess upsetting experiences in a safe environment. According to Walker, “It’s said that time heals all wounds, but my research suggests that time spent in dream sleep is what heals.”
Your brain also expresses its creativity while you’re dreaming. During the day, your prefrontal cortex acts as a traffic cop, blocking out what’s socially inappropriate or irrational. While you're dreaming, this part of the brain doesn't function. That means you can be more creative during a good night of sleep and dreaming.
Some inventions created while dreaming include the sewing machine, the periodic table of elements and even Google! The recipe for C.J. Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower came to Madam Walker in a dream, although the Netflix series Self Made tells a different story. In his book The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler writes that the creativity during dreams happens because “it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faulties, skills.”
“God has given you dreams to show your inner state.” Rumi
Now that we know all about dreams, it makes sense why we’re having such crazy dreams right now. Our brains are trying to process the emotions that we’re feeling during the day. If you’re feeling fear, lack of control and worry, those feelings are going to show up in your dreams.
Your brain may also be trying to come up with creative solutions to your worries during your dreams. It can’t hurt to pay attention to your dreams and see what they’re trying to show you. If you want to keep track of your dreams, you can keep a journal by your bedside and write down what you've been dreaming when you wake up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. We spend more time in REM sleep toward morning so waking up naturally without an alarm clock also means that you're more likely to remember your final dream of the night.
What about nightmares?
According to Patrick McNamara from the Boston University School of Medicine, nightmares happen because the amygdala that processes negative emotions can be over-activated while you’re sleeping, causing a fear response. At the same time, the prefrontal cortex which promotes rational thought is turned off.
The first step to eliminating nightmares is to focus on getting good quality sleep. You’re more likely to have a nightmare when you’re sleep deprived. Setting a consistent bedtime, avoiding alcohol before bed and getting exercise will help. Find out more ways to get a good night’s rest in my previous post here.
If you have the same nightmare over and over, you can try rewriting the ending to the dream. If you’re dreaming of a zombie chasing you, once you’re awake replay the dream in your mind and end it with you escaping. “Rehearsing the nightmare while awake could cause a more positive outcome the next time that one has the same dream,” says Erin Wamsley from the Furman Sleep Lab.
Keep in mind that the emotions you’re experiencing in your dreams could represent what you’re feeling subconsciously and aren’t even aware of. If you’re having anxious, stressful or scary dreams, consider that they may be unacknowledged concerns. Becoming aware of those buried feelings can be the key to ridding them from your dreams.
If you aren’t sleeping, that means you aren’t dreaming. And if you aren’t dreaming, you aren't healing your emotional experiences or being as creative as you could be.
Are you ready to get your sleep (and your dreams) back? Book a call with me to learn why you aren't sleeping and what you can do to finally get the sleep you need to make all your dreams come true.