This year has been off to a pretty sour start. A global pandemic, months of quarantine, and the difficult loss of jobs and loved ones. These unexpected changes have triggered emotional upheaval. But with few people to talk to (due to confinement) and emotions flying high, it’s been an extremely stressful time for everyone. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has taken a serious toll on people’s physical and mental health. One side effect? A mysterious increase in vivid dreams.
According to Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and the founder of Sleeping Ocean, higher stress levels affect all aspects of our physiology, including sleep. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Surrey reports that stress increases REM sleep — the period in which we dream. This means that, for instance, instead of dreaming for 45 minutes, we dream for 60 minutes on end, leading to more intense and fully-developed dreams. These much longer dreams can be extremely realistic, scary, and mentally draining. Hence, we call them vivid dreams.
Even though stress is the main cause of vivid dreaming, there are a few other reasons why we’ve been experiencing it more often these days. First, it’s important to remember that dreams are a direct reflection of our experiences. Given the ongoing pandemic, our dreams are naturally tinted by fear and a whole other plethora of emotions. Second, the upswing in vivid dreams can be related to a shifting sleep schedule. As working from home has become the new normal, we tend to sleep in more often, which allows elongated REM sleep. This in turn causes longer dream periods and vivid dreams (as previously mentioned). Third, greater alcohol consumption during quarantine has caused a peak in ethanol levels, naturally altering our sleep patterns. To be more specific, alcohol suppresses REM sleep in the first half of the night, leading to a brutal rebound in the morning which causes more vivid dreams.
For the most part, these new vivid dreams aren’t something to sweat too much over. Of course, if they’re causing you even more stress, we suggest minimizing the anxiety that’s causing them by using the following resources: