Why are people experiencing particularly vivid dreams during lockdown?

‘It’s part of this situation and it’s not something people should be anxious about,’ sleep expert states

Sabrina Barr
Monday 04 May 2020 11:17 BST

The introduction of a nationwide lockdown on 23 March has drastically changed our everyday lives in a variety of ways.

For some people, having to work from home or being unable to work at all will change what time they wake up in the morning, in addition to the quantity and quality of their sleep at night.

Others have expressed feeling especially groggy, which may be caused by reduced exposure to sunlight or excessive amounts of sleep.

Another phenomenon that has occurred has been the widespread experiencing of vivid dreams, a happening that has been referred to as “quarandreams” on social media.

“Is anybody else having really weird/vivid dreams during this whole lockdown or is it just me?” one person wrote in a tweet that has garnered 4,600 likes.

Someone else tweeted that their regular vivid dreams appear “so realistic” that they often “wake up feeling so exhausted”.

“Many people are likely to have noticed changes to their sleep patterns recently, not just as a direct result of the stress generated by the Covid-19 pandemic but also by the adjustments to their lives that have ensued,” says Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton.

So why is lockdown causing us to quarandream, and should we be worried about it?

Why are so many people experiencing more vivid dreams than usual?

Vivid dreams can occur for a number of reasons, The Sleep Council explains. These causes include sleep deprivation, a fluctuation in hormones and stress.

Therefore, given the significant emotional toll of the coronavirus pandemic, it should perhaps not be surprising that many people are reporting having increasingly vivid dreams.

When you go to sleep, your brain carries out actions including processing the day’s information, consolidating memory and regulating your emotions, explains Professor Colin Espie, professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford.

Your dreams are a “window into the fact that the brain is busy processing emotion”, he states, which is why it is likely dreams will appear more vivid when you are in a heightened emotional state.

“What you’ll probably notice in your dreams just now is they’re a little bit more vivid and probably more emotional in tone. That just reflects the way that we are at the moment,” Professor Espie says.

“One thing that is difficult for us to manage as human beings includes uncertainty, therefore, that’s the kind of emotion that is a part of the reality for us right now.”

Dr William Van Gordon, associate professor of contemplative psychology at the University of Derby, explains that there is “a connection between our state of mind during the day and our state of mind when asleep, including the amount of time we spend dreaming and the intensity of our dreams”.

“Therefore, an abrupt change to the way we normally live our lives, such as that caused by the current lockdown restrictions, will inevitably impact on our sleep patterns or ‘sleep architecture’,” he adds.

Dr Van Gordon adds that a higher frequency of vivid dreams “where the dream experience is unsettling or negative” could be a sign of “stress, anxiety or uncertainty”.

Another reason why you may be experiencing a greater quantity of vivid dreams than usual is due to the manner in which you are waking up.

Although you have around four to five dreams every night, you’ll only be able to remember a dream later on if you wake up during the dream, outlines sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley.

“We dream during REM [rapid eye movement] sleep,” Dr Stanley says. “If our sleep is disturbed, as it may be at the moment due to anxiety and worry, then we may remember them in more detail than normal.”

So, if you wake up due to a spike of anxiety in the middle of a vivid dream, you may be more likely to remember it than if you were jolted awake by an alarm clock. And according to research conducted by Opinium on behalf of 23andMe of 1,251 working adults in April 2020, a third of Britons are no longer setting an alarm to wake up.

Why you shouldn’t be worried about having vivid dreams

Although you may be concerned by vivid dreams if you are not used to experiencing them, they are not something you should be worrying about, Professor Espie says.

“It’s just part of us, it’s part of this situation and it’s not something people should be anxious about,” he states. “It’s not something people need to fret about, it’s not something people should be looking into in detail. The purpose of sleep is to deliver good quality daytime alertness so we’re able to manage and cope.”

Therefore, Professor Espie states, you should instead try to “feel reassured that your sleep is doing its job”, rather than thinking you need to stop vivid dreams from occurring.

The sleep expert acknowledged that these vivid dreams may sometimes take on a “nightmarish quality”, as they are “reflecting a feeling that people are having at the moment of feeling a bit trapped, uncertain and wondering what’s going to happen”.

What can people do to ease their minds about their sleep?

As you are more likely to remember vivid dreams if you wake up spontaneously, waking up at a regular time every day may reduce your likelihood of remembering your dreams in the morning.

However, it is important to work out what sleep pattern works specifically for you, Professor Espie says.

He also advises trying to “put the day to rest” when you go to bed and doing “as much problem solving as you can” before you hit the hay.

Dr Bijlani recommends “making efforts to reduce anxiety” by following “simple, basic sleep hygiene strategies”, including maintaining a regular sleep-wake routine on weekdays and weekends, avoiding the temptation to press the snooze button, making your bedroom a comfortable environment and staying hydrated throughout the day.

Dr Van Gordon also suggests partaking in “mindful breathing” before you go to bed and staying physically active throughout the day.

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