These are anxious times, and dreams help process anxiety. Some tips for dealing with coronavirus pandemic dreams
Isolation, anxiety and a nonstop barrage of grim news about the coronavirus pandemic are a perfect storm for vivid dreams — and nightmares.
According to David H. Winslow Jr., M.D., medical director for Norton Sleep Centers and a pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist with Norton Pulmonary Specialists, there’s even a name for it: coronavirus pandemic dreams.
“Nightmares and dreaming have increased by about 40 percent, according to recent studies, and that’s clearly because we’re all under a lot of stress,” Dr. Winslow said. “Right now, we’re dreaming a lot more about death.”
Dreaming is involved with memory, helping us remember the important things that happened during the day. Dreams also help process emotions like anxiety.
“During periods of stress, not being able to sleep as well, your patterns are off and you wake up more,” Dr. Winslow said.
Because we typically only remember the last dream we had before we wake up, waking up more during the night means we’re remembering more dreams.
According to Dr. Winslow, what you do before you go to bed affects your sleep and dreams.
“It is not healthy to watch news programming for five hours before you go to bed and be all stirred up,” he said.
Ways to improve sleep and remember fewer disturbing dreams
Dr. Winslow has these tips for improving your sleep and dreams:
- Establish a consistent bedtime and a good sleep routine.
- Avoid TV and the internet before bed.
- Meditation, breathing, and gentle stretching all can help you relax before bed.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol or coffee.
- Avoid sleeping pills, even now.
For people awakened by nightmares, Dr. Winslow recommends staying calm and trying
something called dream mastering. Before you go back to sleep, imagine whatever was
frightening about the dream as something harmless. For example, if you dream you’re being chased by a would-be attacker, visualize that person the size of an ant before you go back to sleep. You also can write down your nightmare and reconstruct it into something pleasant, according to Dr. Winslow.
What you do during the day also can help.
“Trying to be positive in the morning can be helpful throughout the day,” Dr. Winslow said. “I usually advise folks to smile and say something like, ‘I feel happy. I feel healthy. I feel terrific.’ Just that process, if you do it every day, can change brain chemistry and make you feel better and be more positive.”
Children and sleep during the pandemic
For parents, Dr. Winslow recommends establishing healthy sleep habits for their children, including sleeping in their own beds, as well as talking with them honestly about what’s happening with the coronavirus.
“You don’t want to hide this from children, because they can take it,” he said.
Because of the social isolation during the pandemic, dreams often fall back on the older, emotional parts of your life, which can be disturbing, according to Dr. Winslow.
Even sleep specialists are not immune from coronavirus pandemic-inspired dreams. To avoid waking up at night, Dr. Winslow started walking more during the day and tries to watch shows that have humor in them, instead of sticking to the news.
“It’s gotten better,” he said.
Suspect a Sleep Disorder?
The first stop should be your primary care provider before poor sleep starts affecting your health. For more information about the Norton Sleep Center, call: (502) 559-5559.