Since we went into lock-down, my sleep pattern has been all over the place. I’m either waking up in a sweat multiple times during the night, or having the most intense dreams of my life. I wake up and sometimes I question whether it actually happened and then realise that my husband definitely isn’t divorcing me for the affair he’s just had, considering we’re unable to leave the house and I’m a really awesome wife.
I’m writing this to you after waking up every hour until 5.30am when I decided I might as well just get up (hurrah I’ve almost made it to the 5AM Club!) After a quick Google, I realise I’m not the only one.
So why are we having such vivid dreams?
Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, has recently conducted a dream survey which seems to show that as the virus has spread across the world, so too has the incidence of vivid dreams. She explains that “changes in one’s routine can stir up dream recall”. And for most of us, this is true.
My routine shouldn’t really have changed much — I’ve been working from home since November — but my morning routine has never looked more different. I’m actively getting up earlier, due to my disturbed sleep, and I’m engaging in a self-care routine a health professional would be proud of. Because I’m not seeing my friends or family, I’m using that time to read or write, and my life looks quite different to what it did before. The only thing that’s missing is that good quality sleep I so deeply crave.
“When you go to sleep, your brain carries out actions including processing the day’s information, consolidating memory and regulating your emotions… 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 Colin Espie, Professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford
What can we do about it?
Whilst a lot of things are out of our control right now, we can try to gain control over our dreams. Allegedly. Dr Barrett recommends that we try to program our dreams as we fall asleep. Choose what you’d like to dream about and repeat this to yourself until you begin to drift off. If you’re not good at visualising things, Dr Barrett says to “place a photo or other objects related to the topic on your nightstand to view as the last thing before turning off your light.”
The good news at least is that we don’t need to be worried about this new phenomenon and it might even be good for us. Having such vivid dreams means we’re experiencing more REM (rapid eye movement) which according to the National Sleep Foundation is thought to benefit learning, memory and mood. And if nothing else, it’s a great conversation starter or may even become the plot line for your next book.
“When you’re in the more deeper stages of sleep — REM sleep, your body is quiet but your mind is actually very active. So it’s a time when when your body and your brain is restoring itself” — Shelby Harris
In the meantime, brain dump your worries in an allotted time slot and stay mindful. You are not what you think. Notice the thought is there but choose not to engage with it. Turn off those news notifications long before you go to sleep and try to relax your mind and body.
This too shall pass.