Dreaming in Quarantine

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Whether we are dreaming of social distancing or winning an Oscar, our nightly dreams have become more frequent and memorable during COVID-19 quarantine and stay-at-home orders.

I was in the spotlight, searching for my lines. Every seat in the theater was filled, as I took my place on stage. The night before, I walked the streets of Paris in a gown and was swept into a private party. A doorman took my coat, and I danced through a maze of floors, each with dazzling chandeliers, decadent hors d'oeuvres, and celebrity guests.

While I ponder my quarantine dreams in the fog of morning, Google searches of “Why am I having weird dreams lately?” tell me I'm not alone. Such searches have quadrupled recently, according to the New York Times. The bubbling up of strange, sometimes frightening dreams is being widely reported as a byproduct of the COVID-19 roller coaster we’re all on.

It’s not my imagination, we are dreaming with more frequency, and more vividly, right now.

The Science of Dreaming

Even if our home might be comfortable, those of us sheltering in place are endlessly adjusting to the frenetic pace of the pandemic.

This stress causes us to remember more of our dreams, according to Michael Nadroff, director of the clinical PhD program at the Mississippi State University psychology department and an expert on the link between nightmares and mental illness. In stressful situations, our sleep becomes broken, causing us to leave and enter REM sleep more frequentlygiving us more dreams to remember.

There’s more. In a recent YouTube video, author of Lucid Dreaming Charlie Morley explains the concept of “day residue,” noting how staying home and only seeing three or four people each day is probably affecting our nighttime experience.

“Less day residue means there’s less content for the brain to work through based on your daily activity. So what the brain has to do now is to go deeper into the subconscious to gather past memories, childhood stuff, shadow stuff, fear, anxiety, and maybe even the collective unconscious,” says Morley.

As I see it, flying to exotic places and decadent ballrooms are an escape from my Groundhog Day—the reality of mothering, working, and schooling around the clock. As Morley sees it, it’s a good time for lucid dreaming, or learning the art of becoming fully conscious within your dream.

“If you’re on lockdown,” says Morley, “it’s the perfect scenario for lucid dreaming because you can ‘leave the house’ without really leaving the house.”

Tuning in to Collective Anxiety

Dreams have always been wildly inconsistent and, yes, weird, in their take on reality. But our nighttime sojourns reveal more about our personal struggles than we might care to admit. Right now, they reveal collective struggle, as California dreamer Erin Gravley is documenting on her I Dream of Covid website.

“If you are into collective unconscious, think about the effects the COVID-19 saga is having on it,” says Morley. “There’s probably more fear and death anxiety in the collective unconscious than there has been for a long time....The entirety of human consciousness has probably been affected.”

And if dreams are indeed day residue, the more news people watch about the pandemic, the more they tend to have vivid nightmares. Nightmares may take the shape of not being able to find food, running from monsters, and more. Being chased tends to be a very common dream, said psychologist Ian Wallace in USA Today, and with today's uncertaintly, more people are reporting dreams of being chased by something faceless or unknown.

If you’re having dreams with fear and anxiety, don’t sweat it, says Morley. It could be a more collective global fear and anxiety you’re tuning in to. Plus, nightmares can help our mind engage with difficult feelings and process trauma, thus improving mental health or helping us problem solve.

Consciously Directing Our Dreams

My quarantine dreams remind me of dreams I had after giving birth, when I was nursing my babies around the clock and caring for my postpartum body. What’s the common thread?

I was homebound, slogging through some physically and emotionally difficult days.

After giving birth to my second child, I missed my best friend's wedding on the tropical island of Nevis. As I plopped my head on the pillow, I anticipated the adventure I’d have in my dreams.

Dream experts might say I was becoming the director of my own dreams in a version of dream incubation, similar to lucid dreaming in that you plant a seed for a specific dream to occur.

How to Remember Your Dreams

To dive deeper into the themes of your own dreams during stay-at-home or quarantine orders, you can follow these steps Morely offers:

  1. Set your intention to remember your dreams. When you enter the drowsy state, use the affirmation, “Tonight I remember my dreams.”
  2. Keep a dream diary next to your bed and write down the content of dreams to solidify the memory.
  3. Spot patterns in your dreams. Perhaps you’re experiencing the same locations, wearing the same clothing, or seeing the same people each night.

In addition to benefitting from personal insights, you may want to also contribute to dream archives of this time, such as i dream of covid. You can upload your dreams here.