Quarantine Dreams

Kelly Cloonan

Over the past two months, I’ve noticed a common occurrence: increasingly strange dreams. Just last night, I dreamt that I reached the top of a ski mountain and there was a playground on top, which ended in a waterslide. Some of my dreams, such as that one, have seemed incredibly random, while others deal with more pressing topics like social distancing and sickness. When I reached out to friends about my increasingly vivid dreams, it seemed that they had noticed similar dream patterns as well. Senior Eliza Durbin had a dream that the whole senior class went on an airplane and some people started randomly jumping off. Holly Thompson had a dream that she was carrying a bag of arugula while climbing up many stairs. These vivid and strange quarantine dreams aren’t an isolated occurrence; people around the world have complained of strange dreams, and one person has even started a website to document all the strange dreams that those around the world have had over the last few weeks (https://www.idreamofcovid.com/browse). The creation of this website just goes to show how common strange dreams are during this pandemic. While it may just be a coincidence that these vivid dreams are happening at the same time as a pandemic, I think there must be some correlation. My original theory was that as our normal lives have gotten stranger and stranger (with less of the social interaction we are accustomed to), our dreams have had to become wilder and wilder in alignment with this shift.

Fitting with my theory, some dream researchers blame vivid dreams on the strange experience of living through this pandemic. Dr. Rubin Naiman, a sleep/dream specialist at the University of Arizona, explains that dreaming about the pandemic could be the brain’s attempt to process all the changes occurring in daily life. With so many recent changes, it is no wonder that dreams have become so vivid in order to process all this new information.

Some researchers also believe that vivid dreams are a result of changing sleep habits. Since most of us have more free time without daily in-person classes, sports practices, and other commitments, it is likely that we are all getting more sleep, meaning that many of us are getting through more REM cycles during our sleep. The REM phase of sleep is when our most vivid dreams tend to occur. REM cycles get longer throughout the night, so more hours sleeping means that we experience more REM cycles which increases the chance of waking up in the middle of one of these cycles and remembering what happened in our dream.

Another explanation for vivid dreams could be that we are thinking more about our dreams during the day. With more time on our hands, it is more likely that we are thinking about and trying to make sense of the dreams we remember. Many, including myself, have been documenting their vivid dreams through journaling or even just by talking with others about their dreams. However, this journaling may have actually caused me to remember some of my dreams more frequently; researchers have found that thinking about and documenting one’s dreams can lead to improved memory of dream content, meaning that the more one focuses on their dreams, the more likely they are to remember the content of future dreams. Therefore, there’s a chance that the vividness of our dreams during quarantine can be attributed to the free time that we have spent thinking more about dreams.

These are just some of the factors that could be contributing to this phenomenon. Since there are not yet any official studies of dreams during quarantine, we have to rely on past studies of dreams to make conclusions about our current dream patterns. However, there are several studies currently in the works that aim to explain quarantine dreams more fully. Dr. Deirdre Leigh Barrett, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, is currently running a survey to gauge the effect of self-quarantining on our dreams. If you have any dreams you would like to share, you can fill out her survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/B8S75CN. Based on responses to the survey thus far, Barrett says that healthcare providers seem to have more intense COVID-19-related nightmares than the rest of the population, which could demonstrate that pandemic-related stress is a major factor in the vividness of our dreams.

If you are curious about dreams and want to experience this phenomenon for yourself, I encourage you to begin journaling about your dreams. Not only is it interesting to look back on later, but it can also help to improve your future recall of dream content!