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University of Arizona studying ‘pandemic dreams’

Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 11:31 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - If you dread what comes after you fall asleep at night, you’re not alone. It turns out stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic may not be limited to our hours of consciousness.

“Coronasomnia,” “pandemic dreams” and “COVID dreams” are just some of the terms being used for what many people are experiencing.

“Back in March and April, people were starting to talk about this,” said Dr. Michael Grandner, the Director of Sleep & Health and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona. “I was having patients talk about, you know saying me, ‘Oh yeah, I’m having these crazy dreams lately.’ Then I was talking to colleagues and friends and they kept saying, ‘What’s up with all these crazy dreams everyone is having?’ So, I brought it up in a lab meeting with some students and I said, ‘Is anyone having crazy dreams?’ and they all said, ‘Yeah, of course! Other people are having them, too?’”

So, Grandner decided to study it; taking a closer look at what only one person sees but doesn’t always remember.

“I was thinking about ‘Why might this be happening?’ So, I came up with a couple of possibilities,” said Grandner. “The truth is, we don’t know yet because it’s happening now. There’s no study of dreams during a global pandemic.”

His first theory is the pandemic has brought on a lot of emotional distress.

“When our world changes, when we are going through something … it works its way into our dreams,” said Grandner. “For some of us, it’s work changing and life changing and finances changing. Some of us are worried about getting sick, others are worried about sending the kids back to school.”

His second theory is sleep schedules are changing. Grandner says our most complex and emotional dreams happen during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which tends to be later on in the night (several hours after we fall asleep).

“You pretty much only remember dreams when you wake up from them,” he said. “We might be setting ourselves up to experience them more by sleeping in a little later, maybe a bit longer and we might be more likely to remember them if we are waking up during that stage.”

Just because they are called “pandemic dreams” doesn’t necessarily mean the dreams are of a pandemic.

“Like losing control behind the wheel of a car. Where the emotion, the idea … is being out of control and how do you regain control of a chaotic situation, for example. That might be a pandemic dream where you don’t even realize it’s related,” said Grandner. “It might also be the background level of change and stress is exposing you to all the dreams you would be having anyways.”

For those who find their dreams disruptive, Grandner recommends starting to wind down a few hours before bed, going to sleep and waking up earlier and getting rid of any blue and green lights. Making sure you get sunlight in the morning is important, he says, to shed some of that sleep inertia and to set your clock for the day.

If you find you’re waking up in the middle of the night, he says it’s best to get out of bed and walk around until you’re tired. That way, your mind only associates your bed with sleep.

“I think we’ve recognized that something is happening,” said Grandner, “and it’s worldwide.”

If you’re experiencing vivid, unusual or scary dreams, the University of Arizona wants to know. A couple hundred people have already taken an online survey but the goal is to reach 1,000. To participate in the study, click HERE.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.