The Pandemic is Changing Our Dreaming


Researchers explain why withdrawal from our usual environments—due to social distancing—has left dreamers with a dearth of “inspiration.”

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.

During our dream states, stress sends the brain on a trip. The neurobiological signals and reactions that produce dreams are similar to those triggered by psychedelic drugs, according to McNamara. Psychedelics activate nerve receptors called serotonin 5-HT2A, which then turn off a part of the brain called the dorsal prefrontal cortex. The result is known as “emotional disinhibition,” a state in which emotions flood the consciousness, especially during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, when we typically dream.

Though these processes happen nightly, most people don’t typically remember their dreams. Living through the coronavirus pandemic might be changing that due to heightened isolation and stress, influencing the content of dreams and allowing some dreamers to remember more of them. For one, anxiety and lack of activity decrease sleep quality. Frequent awakenings, also called parasomnias, are associated with increased dream recall. Latent emotions and memories from the previous day can also influence the content of dreams and one’s emotional response within the dream itself.

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