Noxious gas, rolling giant eyeballs, being trapped in a perpetually falling elevator. The pandemic is sparking a world-wide increase in vivid dreams. And people are sharing them on websites like I Dream of COVID and across social media.
Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard dream researcher and author, analyzed dreams that arose from traumatic events like 9/11, the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and World War II Nazi prisoner of war camps. Now she's collecting dreams happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Especially early on, I saw a lot of dreams about getting the virus. The person would be having trouble breathing or spiking a fever," she said.
Those dreams also included more abstract metaphors.
"One huge subcluster are dreams about bug attacks," she said. "I've just seen dozens and dozens and dozens of dreams where every kind of flying bug imaginable flies at the dreamer, attacking them. Swarms of cockroaches are running toward them. Masses of wriggling worms."
She says it's probably because "bug" is slang for being sick with something. You have a bug.
There were also dreams about needing to wear masks or being crowded by strangers in public when the dreamer knew they should be keeping six feet apart.
And as the pandemic has gone on, she says more of the dreams are about "having to stay at home or being furloughed from a job or being out of school or running low on money – the indirect effects from the pandemic."
She says some are even dreaming about what the world will look like after COVID-19 passes through.
"The full range, from like horrible post-apocalyptic Mad Max kind of scenarios to kind of wondrous, idyllic, utopian, super-wonderful environmental things happening. And I would expect that category to increase as we get more used to dealing with the virus, itself, and more focused on what comes next," she said.
Of course, she's looking at dreams from healthcare providers, too. She says they tend to be reenactments of the terrible things they've witnessed, "and they're just as horrible a set of dreams as what you'd see from combat veterans or people in countries where the war is being fought on their territories."
Barrett is only looking at dreams that people believe are associated with the virus, but she's heard plenty of people say how they're experiencing more dreams and more vivid dreams in general. While things like stress and odd sleeping hours play a role, Barrett said it could also be because people are getting enough sleep.
"I think that a chronically sleep-deprived public is catching up on sleep right now," she said.
"Our last dream period of the night is the longest and it's associated with the most vivid dreams...so when we catch up on sleep, we're even more catching up on sleep time."
"Right now, I think we have this huge REM rebound in dreams, superimposed on just crisis in general," she said.
If you want to add your COVID-related dream to Barrett's scientific survey, you can do so here. As of May 5, she had collected 7,000 dreams from about 2,800 people from around the world.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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