Never tell me your dreams, because I’m not interested. Even if I know and like you, they’re still about as interesting as your story about travelling in Thailand circa 2000. I’m not even interested in my own dreams, once I grew up and realised most of the Freud I’d read as a teenager was bollocks.
However, over the past three weeks I have had weird dream after weird dream, every night. I’ve had a couple of explicitly corona-related anxiety dreams to do with being too close to people in public, as well as some random weirdness involving an implausible combination of locations, places I remember from growing up, people from secondary school, incongruous celebrities and random Twitter people.
Which is all very strange, because normally I just dream about being attacked by vagina with teeth.
Yet apparently coronavirus weird dreams is a worldwide phenomenon and everyone’s having them. In France, there is a 35% increase in dream recall since the virus began, and what seems to be the common theme is how weird the dreams are all.
One explanation is that we’re sleeping more. As Wired reports: “A lot of it is just watching slightly sleep deprived people catching up on sleep, and that people who are letting themselves sleep a natural amount at night are getting more and more dreams,” according to Deirdre Barrett, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of books including The Committee of Sleep and Trauma and Dreams.
This, Barrett explains, is impacting the amount of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep people are getting. In a typical sleep cycle, REM follows a period of deep sleep and is when dreams tend to be most vivid. With more people sleeping for longer periods, and not being woken artificially by alarm clocks, they’re experiencing more complete sleep cycles — and more REM as a result.
I really miss office life but I hate commuting, which takes two hours out of the day, and as a result I’m sleeping more, although part of it is that life is less enjoyable so I’m hoping I can just sleep through until June. But like a lot of people, I’m also waking up in the night more, which again increases dream recall.
But while most of us are just having anxiety dreams, frontline hospital staff are more likely to have actual nightmares, similar to the surge in bad dreams recorded after the Second World War and subsequent conflicts when post-traumatic stress was investigated.
For the rest of us, the coronavirus-related dreams will subside. After the Challenger disaster in 1986, a quarter of children in California were experiencing shuttle-related nightmares, but they soon went (I remember having a number of aeroplane-related dreams after 9/11).
And when the vaccine breakthrough comes, as early as the autumn or perhaps next spring, 2020 will just seem like… a weird dream.