Thursday Reads: Sleep and Dreams In the Time of Coronavirus

The Nightmare, painted in December 2016, depicts what artist Mark Bryan imagined the Trump presidency would be like.

Good Afternoon!!

It seems that the coronavirus and stay-at-home orders have caused lots of people to have bizarre dreams and nightmares. I spent this morning reading numerous articles about this phenomenon. Here’s a sampling:

The Washington Post: ‘Edith Piaf sneezed on my cheesecake’ and other coronavirus dreams.

“I dreamed that we couldn’t record [my podcast],” says Alex Scheer, an Ohio music student and the co-host of “College Sports Connection.” “Because covid-19 spread over the airwaves, and if we recorded, we would be risking each other’s lives.”

“I dreamed that I planned a duck boat tour for a conference,” says Christi Showman Farrar, a Massachusetts librarian. “And we were going to meet at the Prudential Center, which is a shopping mall, but we got there and it was eerily quiet and I couldn’t figure out why. And then I realized there were a few people around, but they were all dressed like Santa or elves, and all the stores had been covered in wrapping paper like they were holiday gifts.”

The NIghtmare, by John Henry Fuseli

Did the wrapping paper signify that the concept of public shopping now seems like an underappreciated treat? Did the elves signify that things won’t be back to normal until Christmas? Does anything in a covid-19 dream signify anything more than the pitiful bleating of our collective subconscious, creating a different ludicrous reality than the ludicrous reality we’re already inhabiting?

“Okay, so I’m not typically a vivid dreamer,” says Hillary Haldane, a professor in Connecticut. Nevertheless, a few nights ago, she found herself face to face with the French singer Edith Piaf.

Except it wasn’t the real Edith Piaf, exactly — more like the stylized painting-version of Piaf, from the cover of an album Haldane has been playing for living-room dance parties during the quarantine. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Dream Piaf produced an entire cheesecake. Then she sneezed on it. Then she handed it to Haldane.

“Obviously, what made it so vivid was the fear of sneezing and coughing,” Haldane says. “Plus, all of this anxiety around food: Do we have enough of it? Is it safe to go get it? The virus was infecting the one safe activity I still have. Dance parties with my kids.”

The New York Times: Why Am I Having Weird Dreams Lately?

The question of whether “anyone else” has “been having” strange dreams (“lately”) is perennially popular online. It is a spooky yet comforting query: Has anyone else stumbled onto possible evidence that the universe possesses a finite metaphysical infrastructure occasionally detected by the subconscious?

Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński recreated his dreams in his paintings.

In recent weeks, however, the question has been posed with increasing frequency. Local news personalities in particular appear uniquely susceptible to wondering if anybody else is having strange dreams, with meteorologists and anchors in, for instance, TexasConnecticutNorth CarolinaWashingtonWisconsin, and New York, having recently posed it on their public Facebook pages. And the Google query “why am i having weird dreams lately” has quadrupled in the United States in the past week.

National media properties — anxious to provide lighthearted human interest stories to counterbalance news items like a recent announcement that the convenience store chain Wawa was sending a refrigerated truck to New Jersey to serve as a temporary morgue, yet hamstrung by the dearth of novel experiences it is possible to uncover in one’s own home — have hastened to supply the answer.

The answer is: Yes, someone else is having weird dreams lately. (Always.) But are we — humanity — dreaming with more frequency, and more vividly, right now? The answer is: Also, likely, yes — at least for many people.

Read much more about dreaming in traumatic times at the NYT link.

National Geographic: The pandemic is giving people vivid, unusual dreams. Here’s why.

Ronald Reagan pulled up to the curb in a sleek black town car, rolled down his tinted window, and beckoned for Lance Weller, author of the novel Wilderness, to join him. The long-dead president escorted Weller to a comic book shop stocked with every title Weller had ever wanted, but before he could make a purchase, Reagan swiped his wallet and skipped out the door.

Nightmare, by Sigifredo Camacho

Of course, Weller was dreaming. He is one of many people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they are experiencing a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams….

With hundreds of millions of people sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic, some dream experts believe that withdrawal from our usual environments and daily stimuli has left dreamers with a dearth of “inspiration,” forcing our subconscious minds to draw more heavily on themes from our past. In Weller’s case, his long-time obsession with comics came together with his constant scrolling through political posts on Twitter to concoct a surreal scene that he interpreted as a commentary on the world’s economic anxieties.

At least five research teams at institutions across multiple countries are collecting examples such as Weller’s, and one of their findings so far is that pandemic dreams are being colored by stress, isolation, and changes in sleep patterns—a swirl of negative emotions that set them apart from typical dreaming.

“We normally use REM sleep and dreams to handle intense emotions, particularly negative emotions,” says Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine who is an expert in dreams. “Obviously, this pandemic is producing a lot of stress and anxiety.”

Read about some of these studies at the link.

Seasons with strange dreams, Marnie Pitts

A few more to explore:

The Guardian: Is coronavirus stress to blame for the rise in bizarre ‘lockdown dreams’?

The Los Angeles Times: You’re not imagining it: We’re all having intense coronavirus dreams.

CNN: The meaning behind your strange coronavirus dreams.

Time: The Science Behind Your Weird Coronavirus Dreams (And Nightmares).

There’s even a website that is collecting coronavirus dreams:

I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t been remembering dreams lately. Since the lockdown started I haven’t slept much at all. I’ve been getting about four hours sleep a night and then waking up around 3-4 AM. I know it’s because of my anxiety about what’s happening. Then lately I started feeling tired and sleepy much of the time. I actually dozed off while writing this post! It turns out I’m not alone.

The Cut: Is My Fatigue Due to Stress or the Coronavirus?

For everyone else who is tired all the time now, and worried about what that means, I got in touch with Andrew Varga, a neuroscientist and physician at the Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center, and Curtis Reisinger, clinical psychologist and corporate director at Northwell Health, to learn more.

If I’m tired all the time, does that mean I could have coronavirus?

As is the case with chest tightness, or a cough, or any other single symptom, it’s hard for doctors to make a definitive diagnosis — especially when we still don’t have enough tests. And because fatigue can be a symptom of a number of things (many of them unrelated to your physical health), it’s not a reason to panic. “If you get more symptoms, so it’s not just the fatigue, but fatigue plus body aches plus a cough and a fever, that’s worrisome,” says Varga. “Chest tightness alone, fatigue alone — those are less concerning that you’re about to become really sick.”

Henri Rousseau (The Sleeping Gypsy), 1897

So if I’m not sick, why am I tired every day?

Okay, yes: Many people likely have a pretty good guess as to an answer here. Many essential workers are overworked and underpaid, often with fewer resources available when they do feel sick. Parents are tired because they are parenting all day every day without the relief of school and/or child care. But I work from home, on my couch, and I don’t have kids, so what’s my excuse?

First, says Reisinger, it’s important to understand there are different types of fatigue. There’s physical fatigue, like you might experience after a long run or playing sports. That kind can lead to achy muscles, but it’s usually pretty good for sleep.

There’s mental fatigue, like you might get after doing your taxes or something similarly … taxing. Unless you’re an infectious-disease modeler, this probably isn’t the most likely culprit for your persistent exhaustion at the moment. “When you get mental fatigue, you may jump up in the middle of the night and think of a solution,” says Reisinger, but otherwise, your sleep stays pretty regular.

What’s most troubling, says Reisinger, is the third form of fatigue: emotional. When we’re on high emotional alert — worrying for ourselves, our families and friends, the world at large — we use up a lot of brain energy, and we tend to have a harder time recouping it. “Emotional fatigue is the one that’s going to wake you up at three in the morning or give you insomnia — either you can’t get to sleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t get back to sleep,” he says.

The Independent: Coronavirus: Why Do People Seem To Feel Groggy and Tired During Lockdown?

The way in which our lives have transformed in such a short space of time has heavily impacted our daily routines, as many individuals no longer have to wake up at a certain time in order to be punctual for school or work.

The Nightmre, by John Anster Fitzgerald

This has seemingly resulted in an increasing number of people experiencing “grogginess” amid the coronavirus pandemic….

“The medical term for grogginess is ‘sleep inertia’,” Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, explains to The Independent.

“Grogginess refers to a phase in between sleep and wakefulness when an individual doesn’t feel fully awake. People who are affected feel drowsy, have difficulty thinking clearly and can be disorientated and clumsy for a while after waking.”

Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California and author of Why We Sleep, compares the way in which a brain wakes up to an old car engine, stating that sleep inertia occurs when “sleepiness is still hanging around in the brain”. “You can’t just switch it on and then drive very fast. It needs time to warm up,” he says.

So why is this happening to so many people now? Read all about it at The Independent.

What’s happening with you today? What stories are you following?

22 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Sleep and Dreams In the Time of Coronavirus”

  1. dakinikat says:

    My sleep patterns and dreams have been way weird. I’ve been trying to keep saying my mantras prior to sleep but they don’t have the usual effect on me. So, back to the mat!

    This is a very interesting set of reads!!! Thx BB!

    • jslat says:

      That is so strange. My mantras prior to sleep feel “off” and don’t produce the same calm. Also, I normally remember my dreams, but not lately. Had no idea there was a global corona effect.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Same here. I often remember dreams, but lately nothing.

        • quixote says:

          Lordy. Now I’m feeling like the boring old fuddy-dud. No special dreams. No vivid imagination.

          But not being able to sleep? Oh, yes. I find I can (some of the time) keep a lid on fears during the day. But 2 AM? Good luck with that.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Same here. I’m a mess. The last few days I think my body was trying to catch up on all the missed sleep, so I’ve been taking naps. But when it comes time to fall asleep at night and stay asleep it’s a struggle. I live in constant fear of what the monster in the WH will do next.

          • NW Luna says:

            My sleep’s been screwed up since Nov 2016.

    • jan says:

      that phenomenon is amazing, but perhaps it explains why every time I wake up I hear Just Breathe with Willie and Lukas Nelson singing in my head.

  2. dakinikat says:

    So, this figures …

  3. quixote says:

    I see calls out there on the twitter machine for Melania to get off her butt and sew masks, like a First Lady would.

    Sorry, but no. I wish people would stop with the “he got the job, so she should pitch in.”

    Yes, it’s what a compassionate human being would do, and she isn’t. But that’s not the point. The point is that what their husbands do does not, in fairness, put any obligation on the wife.

    She didn’t run for president. It’s not up to her to compensate for his bullshit in any way.

    (Her own bullshit? Tennis courts? I dunno. She wouldn’t be doing any of it if she hadn’t been forced out of her Olympic-class golddigger role. In my world, we should just ignore her. Unless she actually *does* something relevant and bad.)

  4. bostonboomer says:


    District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser yesterday ordered a one-month extension of the state of emergency, as cases in the region grow at a rapid pace. Federal officials in the nation’s capital expect a New York-like epidemic in the District, Maryland and Virginia, one that could potentially cripple the government.

    “No one wants to talk evacuation, especially when there’s nowhere to go,” says a senior military officer working on continuity of government planning; he requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record.

    But a little-known military task force charged with evacuating Washington has already been activated, a task force charged with the most sensitive government mission of “securing” Washington in the face of attackers, foreign and domestic—and if necessary, moving White House and other key government offices to alternate locations.

    Activated on March 16, Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) is chartered to “defend” Washington on land, in the air, and even on its waterfronts. The special task force, the only one of its kind in the country, demonstrates how there are two sides of government preparedness. The public face, and even the day-to-day work of most men and women assigned to JTF-NCR, is the same as it is everywhere else in the country—medical support, delivering supplies, manning health-check stations.

    But behind the scenes, JTF-NCR is responsible for what the military calls “homeland defense”: what to do in the face of an armed attack on the United States, everything from guarding Washington’s skies to preparing for the civil unrest that could occur if a nuclear weapon were detonated in the capital. But most immediate, JTF-NCR is charged with facilitating continuity of government, particularly moving civil and military leaders to secret locations were the order given to evacuate the city.

    • quixote says:

      Can you imagine the Orange Mess evacuated to an underground bunker in a secure facility. No hairdresser. No makeup artist. No twitter, most likely.

      Hollow laughter.

      I don’t envy the valets or whatever they call them in the military who have to deal with him in person after that happens.

  5. bostonboomer says:

  6. roofingbird says:

    I submit that the reason many are dreaming is because they are actually getting eight hours sleep, instead of the six and half hours people grabbed, in order to fulfill their ten hour work, and four hour drive, day. So grateful I’m not doing that anymore.

  7. bostonboomer says: