Coronavirus is giving us bad dreams: How to get a good night’s sleep on lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic is the stuff of nightmares.

A publicly-sourced blog, I Dream of Covid, is documenting the strange and often-disturbing dreams many are experiencing during the coronavirus lockdown.

“I just woke up from a dream where a vaccine had come out for the coronavirus, but there wasn’t enough for everyone,” writes an anonymous 20-something California resident of a nightmare they had on April 6. “I was responsible for figuring out who could get treatment and who had to die.”

Erin Gravley was inspired to start the site 10 days after the Bay Area began sheltering in place, and she had a dream about social distancing.

“These are highly unusual times,” Gravley, a Marin County, Calif., resident, writes on her blog. “I was curious to know how the anxieties of the moment would translate to our dreams.”

So far, Gravley has collected about 50 dreams, and anyone can contribute their own through this online form. Many of the ones submitted have been about insects and people becoming sick, and insects in the context of rotting flesh, she says.

She’s not the only one intrigued by the nightmares of those on lockdown. Harvard Medical School assistant professor of psychology Deirdre Barrett has also begun collecting coronavirus-related dreams to analyze and compare.

“I like to say that dreams are just thinking in a different biochemical state, and I think we’re still grappling with all the same issues that concern us when we’re awake,” she tells Vice.

There are some theories to explain why the pandemic is changing the shape of so many peoples’ unconscious moments.

The continuity theory of dreams suggests that dreams are reflective of what you’re thinking and doing when you’re awake, social psychologist Dylan Selterman, who runs the University of Maryland’s DREAM Lab, tells tells Vox.

“If we feel some degree of stress about the pandemic, or about work or family, then it’s normal for those types of themes to appear in our dream content,” says Selterman. He’s experienced this himself. “Both my wife and I have had dreams that involve social distancing,” he says. Trauma has also been found to lead to more lucid dreaming.

Following 9/11, Tufts University School of Medicine scientists found that subjects’ had more intense images in their dreams after the terror attacks — although they did not involve any obvious connections, like airplanes flying into towers.

For those struggling to get a good night’s sleep in quarantine, here are a few tips on how to be well-rested while sheltering in place.

Stick to a routine

It’s harder now than ever, when time feels like an illusion and the weeks bleed into one another, to be consistent in your day-to-day — which is why structure, even if it’s entirely self-imposed, is vital. Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon, be consistent with your meal times and try to take in some sunlight during the day. Your circadian rhythm craves consistency.

Don’t work in your bedroom

If possible, designate a non-bedroom space to spend your working, or simply waking, hours. The physical separation between work and rest will help you draw a mental line too, and make it easier to identify when your body needs sleep, and when it’s time to work.

Chill out before bed

Allow yourself an hour or so to wind down before you plan on going to sleep. This means forgoing technology in the run up to passing out. The blue light your phone and laptop emit are known to reduce melatonin, keeping you wired and making it more difficult to drift off.

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