Riding the Covid-19 Dream Surge
September 16, 2020 4:14 AM   Subscribe

According to Scientific American, COVID-19 has altered our dream worlds ... how much we dream, how many of our dreams we remember and the nature of our dreams themselves. Tore Nielsen, professor of psychiatry at the Université de Montréal and director of its Dream and Nightmare Laboratory reports on a "dream surge" or global increase in the reporting of vivid, bizarre dreams.

In addition to research teams at institutions across multiple countries collecting and analyzing examples of dreams during the pandemic [previously], artists Erin and Grace Gravley have launched idreamofcovid.com to collect and share Covid dreaming worldwide, while on Twitter, a Coronavirus Dreams Bot is retweeting the "viral dreamscape."

How to Take Control of Your Crazy 2020 Dreams.
posted by taz (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
(This post is part of Mefi's fundraising month effort "Dream Week," which has been extended for the rest of the month. Make any Mefi post on dreams or dreaming, and tag it "dreamweek" to add to the nocturnal transmission!)
posted by taz at 4:20 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

surfing the collective unconscious: "So, the question of the day is as simple as it is challenging: If we are developing a Noosphere, what comes next?"

Take Care In Your Dreaming! :P
posted by kliuless at 4:56 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Longer slumber leads to more dreams; people in sleep laboratories who are allowed to snooze more than 9.5 hours recall more dreams than when sleeping a typical eight hours. Sleeping longer also proportionally increases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when the most vivid and emotional dreams occur.

I've read about this! About ten years back, I finished off an especially busy phase of theater work and chose to take a break; I had noticed I was having some chronic sleep deprivation (late hours at the theater plus having to get up early for the day job) and it was starting to make me go stupid. During that first week off, when I was getting a more normal sleep schedule again, I was dreaming every night and having super-weird dreams too. I looked into it and discovered that that's not unusual.

I also discovered something that may explain it; your body has a set rate for how much REM sleep you need in a night - say, like, once an hour - and if you start having a period of chronic sleep deprivation, your body will gradually adjust that rate to make up for that lost REM sleep (going from once an hour to once every 40 minutes, say). I figured that in that case, maybe it was just taking a while for my body to switch back now that I was getting better sleep again.

REM sleep and brains are funky.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Heeeey, I remember talking about this back in April!. Nice to have some science behind it now. As I commented back in April, approximately 38 years ago:

Three nights ago my subconscious wrote, directed, and performed a full-length Broadway musical in which the audience finds itself in a Kafka-esque nightmare of not knowing whether they were actually part of the production, or if their sanity was slipping away with the rest of the onstage cast. Plot points revolved around revealing dark secrets of individual audience members, revealing them as previously-unknown antagonists. At one point a dog sang a very Gilbert-and-Sullivan ditty accusing someone sitting in the front row of murder.

My takeaways from this:
1. I wish I had more than a hazy recollection of the plot, because I could totally pitch this in the time of Corona
2. I don't know what I did to you, subconscious, but it's gonna be OK, buddy--we'll get through this
3. MaySeptember is going to be a really long month
posted by Mayor West at 5:56 AM on September 16, 2020 [18 favorites]

* blink *

Mayor West I would totally go see something like that.

I've had my own "hey it'd be cool if this were real" dream (a Go-Kart rally up 8th Avenue here in the city) - I wonder if that site with a collection of CovidDreams has a subsite for "these were dreams but they actually aren't bad ideas".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:02 AM on September 16, 2020

This is a very informative post. I've been trying to find information about dreams online, but not really knowing where to search. My dreams since March have been very vivid. In the beginning there were many nightmares and flashbacks to earlier trauma, but they have almost disappeared after I started a dream diary. (Even this morning, when I dreamt I was in a plane crash, it was OK because I accepted my fate. I was happy to wake up though).
The other day I dreamt of being in a different home, folding laundry, chatting with my family, looking at the traffic out the window, and listening to the radio. All the details of the house were very interesting and it was a nice dream, but the most fantastic thing was a song on the radio. It was a political song in a 70's folk style, and it was really well-written, both the music and the lyrics. When I woke, I had to figure out if it really existed, because it was so vivid, I thought my neighbor might have been playing it while I slept. After a couple of days of research I have realized that my dream-imagination has composed and produced a whole song. Unfortunately I didn't take notes when I woke up, so now I don't remember anything.
posted by mumimor at 6:09 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Longer slumber leads to more dreams; people in sleep laboratories who are allowed to snooze more than 9.5 hours recall more dreams than when sleeping a typical eight hours. Sleeping longer also proportionally increases rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when the most vivid and emotional dreams occur.

Can verify. A few years ago I was on a medication that I was warned as a side effect might increase my sleep time. As someone who is perpetually a sleep minimalist, I welcomed the opportunity to sleep more for a change. After a week or so I adjusted to it and was back to my usual five to to six hours but early on I was sleeping, at my peak, nineteen hours a day. It’s hard to get much done when you are waking up at 5:00 PM and yawning and stretching by 9:45. The dreams were magnificent, though.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:10 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I too have had some very dark but very magnificent performance dreams with amazing music, killer cinematic and sound design, costumes, the whole thing! Who knew we were all secretly such talented auteurs (with unfortunately little to no daytime access to our genius)?
posted by taz at 6:15 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

My dreams have gone bonkers! I just put it down to having very little external stimulus as I don't go anywhere / do anything and my brain is making up for it.
posted by my-username at 6:23 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lately my dreams are just me screaming at various family members for voting for Trump.
posted by maddieD at 6:25 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Perhaps the gods are speaking to us again
posted by JohnR at 6:27 AM on September 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

My dreams haven't really changed that much in content or intensity throughout all of this, but back in like April I had an absolutely terrifying anxiety nightmare (something I am not prone to) in which I was walking into a cave which got narrower and narrower until I got stuck and was trapped in there.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:35 AM on September 16, 2020

I too have had some very dark but very magnificent performance dreams with amazing music, killer cinematic and sound design, costumes, the whole thing!

When I was in junior high, I dreamed up an entire episode of M*A*S*H. ....Almost. The general plot was that no one knew where Radar was - but not, like, "he's missing and we should be worried", but more like no matter where people went to look for him he was there an hour ago and went off somewhere else but no one knew where. Hawkeye and Major Houlihan and Winchester and everyone were having all these conversations about "this is weird, where is Radar?"

And then finally there was the scene in the O.R. and everyone's in surgery, and suddenly Klinger came running in all excited saying "Guys! Guys! I found Radar!"

"Omigod finally! Where was he?"

"Oh, you're never gonna believe this!" Klinger said. "Radar was - "

And that was when my alarm woke me up.

I actually screamed in frustration and freaked my mother out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

Oh my, I'll have to read that Julian Jaynes bit, that's like one of my favorite crackpot theories from childhood that I sorta think is probably pretty close to true. Every once in a while I check up on it and try to see how it has fared through the ups and downs over the years.

Nth that the secret to dreams is two fold. Sleeping beyond the point where you would normally get out of bed because "why get out of bed when you can catch another sleep cycle of dreams". And that the more you try to remember dreams, the more dreams you have to remember. It's almost a curse to have two or three or four wonderfully fantastic dreams almost every night.

Adam Savage's Dream Diary Sculpture is a bit of a testament to beware of keeping track of your dreams, the more you do... the weirder and more frequent they get.

I can't say that COVID has had any sort of impact on my dreams. They're the same as they ever were... only that now I just catch an extra one because... might as well stay in bed a couple more hours since there's no reason not to. Bonus Dream!
posted by zengargoyle at 7:58 AM on September 16, 2020

Empress... Radar was in your heart the whole time ;)
posted by kokaku at 8:12 AM on September 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

For as long as I can remember, I've had frequent, vivid, complex, and recurring dreams. Lately, while dreaming some random scenario, I'll record-scratch to a halt and realize I'm not wearing a mask or socially distancing. There's this moment of rising dread as I digest the details of my surroundings. My previously narrow perception bubble expands, unveiling a very crowded space with people simply everywhere, in every direction.

Also, to jump on the performative bandwagon, I have had countless dreams of playing an instrument at a very high level of skill and composition, only to wake up to my own extremely modest abilities. Often, toward the end of such dreams I being to realize that it is a dream. Invariably, I feel confident that this time I will be able to bring that skill and/or composition back with me. Alas, no such luck. Yet.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 8:52 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Am I the only one who has dreams where I suddenly realize with horror that I forgot about physical distancing?
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:56 AM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Mrs. and I refer to these kinds of dreams as "good job, brain" dreams. Last night in dreamland, I invented baby mosquito risotto. nth-ing that the dreams have been crazy these past few months.
posted by emelenjr at 9:14 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have always had very vivid, detailed dreams - the kind where I can remember the faces of characters in the dreams, am very aware of clothing and setting, etc.

Mainly, I feel like my brain is compensating for the dullness and loneliness of quarantine with social dreams - I dream a lot more about crowds, walking, doing things in groups and so on than in the past. A lot of my dreams are really place-y - lots of building details, lots of movement between well-defined locations. Honestly, I look forward to dreaming - I'm so lonely and sad all the time, but in my dreams I can go places and see people and there's no coronavirus. If I won the lottery I'd just sleep as many hours a day as I could.

(I have had a bunch of dreams where I'm in a space where no one is wearing a mask - sometimes I'm the only one, sometimes I too have forgotten.)
posted by Frowner at 10:18 AM on September 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

56 percent of articles during the first week of stories featured interviews with the same Harvard dream scientist, which may have influenced readers to dream about the themes repeated by her in various interviews.

This part of the article made me laugh. My partner works at Harvard (office guy) and one of the things that we talk about A LOT is how much of early COVID discourse was shaped by a really short list of people, many of whom worked there.

Am I the only one who has dreams where I suddenly realize with horror that I forgot about physical distancing?

Nope, me too. Like my dreams are a lot like they've always been, slightly easier to remember because I'm rarely getting up and doing something that would cause me to forget them. And yet, there's always some nagging "Wait, why are we standing SO CLOSE?" little bit from my real life mind that intrudes.
posted by jessamyn at 10:55 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nth-ing no change, but I rarely remember my dreams. The only way I know I’ve had REM sleep is waking up with an erection for no good reason.
Wondering about the social media part- I’m not really on social media much at all. (Except here, of course). Maybe that explains no Covid dreams for me.
posted by MtDewd at 10:57 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

About a month ago I had a dream where I was going down a bumpy road at night with some strange flashing lights on the roadsides, and coming up fast on someone on my right on a bicycle just as one of the flashes illuminated their muscular leg at full extension and I could see their shorts and shoe with the sock sagging down around their ankle.

And in the dream I thought "wait a minute, I'm awfully close to this person – am I driving a car or riding a bicycle?" So I rewound the dream, which is something I haven't done before as far as I can remember, and it turned out I was on a bike, at which I breathed a sigh of relief and woke up, but the peculiarity of the dream made it exceptionally memorable.

Then about a week later I was watching a short compilation of near miss lightning strike clips on YouTube and there was my dream in perfect detail about midway through, and of course I did rewind and rewatch it several times.

I have watched lightning strike compilations on YouTube before, and the same clips often appear in more than one compilation, so I went back through my YouTube History and rewatched all the ones I could find but didn't see that clip or anything at all like it, though I did end up in a strange and dissociated state of mind (presumably from all that flashing in a short time span) that took a couple of hours to subside and left me feeling very tired. But not sleepy!
posted by jamjam at 12:23 PM on September 16, 2020 [5 favorites]

I have vague memories of a story I read, maybe in Omni, where everyone on earth started having the same dream of a nightmarish world that involved rats living in their stomachs. As they became more intense and widespread the international turmoil grew to a crescendo, then suddenly they stopped and everything returned to normal.

In closing the narrator was thinking about asking the pretty new hire in accounting out for a date and noted the cute way the rat in her stomach would peek out of her mouth to see what was coming for lunch.
posted by calamari kid at 12:51 PM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

I've had more vivid dreams I would say, and have remembered them more. What is interesting is how some of them are pretty pre-covid normal, and other times I all of a sudden realize no one is wearing masks or social distancing, and I freak out. I'd say it's about 50/50 as to covid/non-covid.
posted by Windopaene at 1:02 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I am pretty prone to anxiety dreams, so that's not new. My annoying recurring nightmare is that I can SEE covid on a person. It sorta looks like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons. In my dream I'll be at the grocery store pushing a cart, and when I get to a new aisle, I'll see that weird dusty cloud surrounding whomever is in the aisle, and then I just leave my cart and run away. I hate it and it happens a few times a month. :-/
posted by dorkydancer at 1:32 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm not remembering my dreams at all -- I've had difficulty remembering my dreams for the past few years, probably correlating with an increase in marijuana use to cope with the constantly upticking stress level. Back in winter before all the virus stuff took hold here, I was somewhat successful in remembering dreams if I abstained from getting high and used a mugwort tincture before bed, to the point that I was able to write down my dreams over the course of a few weeks and identify some consistent themes and motifs. Now... well, one morning last week I woke up out of a dream and thought, "Huh, I think I was having a dream..." and then any memory of actual dream content was gone.

It's a bummer, I used to dream like a champ with these long, intricate dreams that I could recall well enough to make detailed journal entries about them. I'd like to get back to that state, but I think it would require laying off the weed, and for that I'd need to cut off any information coming in from the outside world and basically make sober pleasure seeking the focus of my days. Is there a grant program to fund such a thing?
posted by palomar at 1:50 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

hat is interesting is how some of them are pretty pre-covid normal, and other times I all of a sudden realize no one is wearing masks or social distancing, and I freak out.

This! Overall I haven't noticed much change, but I have had exactly this kind of dream many times. Normal situation, nothing feels wrong, then suddenly I'm like "wait a minute why is no one wearing masks or distancing!"
posted by thefoxgod at 1:57 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

calamari kid, you're thinking of Dream World by R. A. Lafferty.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 2:02 PM on September 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yes! That's exactly the one. Thank you Nancy!
posted by calamari kid at 4:07 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dream tip: Watch operas or old movies.

You may remix those songs and scores in your dreams and it is great!

thought and prayers to those dreaming about the upcoming US election.
posted by Freecola at 4:38 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I haven’t had this many vivid dreams since I was on the nicotine patch like 20 years ago. They’re all all anxiety dreams now though, usually involving travel. Like I’m lost in a foreign city, or locked out my hotel room, or my vehicle broke down on a country road at night, I’ve lost my wallet and phone etc… Nothing about the current situation directly, just a lot of things I wish I could be doing turning into horrible stress nightmares.
posted by rodlymight at 7:27 PM on September 16, 2020

I keep a dream log ( when I can, I lose details by the time I can get to my laptop sometimes 12 hours later ) and I've had only two dreams where I knew we should be wearing masks but no one was. other than that, normal dreams.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:06 PM on September 16, 2020

I keep dreaming about people who have died. Not of Covid, just people who have died. Like I'll be at a family gathering and my grandfather will be there, and I'm like is he supposed to be here? I'm not sure.

I keep having dreams where I'm with a childhood friend who died a few years ago in a motorcycle accident. It's weird, because after our childhood we weren't particularly close, but he keeps popping up in my dreams. Mostly we seem to be going out to lunch and stuff like that. Maybe I should just go with the flow and stop questioning it. Maybe they don't get out much these days and need the dream more than I do.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:40 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have also been having vivid, intense dreams and nightmares, but most notably I now semi-regularly have mask anxiety dreams. I can’t find my mask, or it keeps slipping off, or it doesn’t fit properly, or I forgot it, etc.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:59 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had an especially vivid dream last night, with sub plots and a multi-day storyline and everything. The fact that I can still picture some of it 4 hours later is pretty unusual for me. I'm also in the "much more frequent and vivid dreams since quarantine" group. Also the forgot my mask anxiety dreams (though oddly not social distancing ones?)
posted by brilliantine at 8:01 AM on September 17, 2020

I've been having WHY IS NO ONE WEARING A MASK dreams on the regular. Last night I was trapped inside a huge, warren like mall/church where no one was wearing a mask except me, and it was awful. They were so friendly, all those hundreds of people, but they wouldn't tell me where the exit was. They kept telling me to listen to the sermon.
posted by RedEmma at 1:48 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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