A woman having a dream

Having vivid dreams during this phase of the coronavirus pandemic? This could be why

Posted by for Sleep

Appearing on an episode of Working From Home with Stylist, consultant clinical psychologist Sue Cummings explains why our dreams might be more intense than usual during the pandemic.

Although many of the original coronavirus lockdown restrictions have now eased, many of us are still feeling the effects of the pandemic in our subconscious adventures. If you’ve been experiencing some seriously vivid dreams recently, you’re not alone: whether they’re fuelled by anxiety or just incredibly detailed, there’s something about our dreams at the moment that’s that extra bit intense. 

If, like us, you’re fascinated by the mysterious and mind-boggling world of dreaming, you’ve probably spent hours googling what your dreams really mean to try and make sense of it all (we asked an expert to explain our vivid dreams to us in an attempt to do just that). But why are we having these vivid dreams in the first place? 

This question has been the starter of many a conversation among the Stylist team: despite the fact that most of us are probably doing less than we usually would pre-lockdown, our unconscious mind is having a field day and providing us with some seriously outrageous dreams. 

Whereas previously we might have forgotten about the dreams we had the night before, now, recalling our subconscious adventures is part of our daily routine.

A woman sleeping
Why have our dreams changed so drastically in lockdown?

So why is it that the pandemic is having this strange effect on all of us?

To find out, we asked Sue Cummings, a consultant clinical psychologist who has worked in Adult Mental Health Services for 30 years. 

Appearing on an episode of Working From Home with Stylist, Cummings explained how our dreams work to help us handle difficult emotions we might not have been able to process during the day. 

“Freud said that the function of dreams was to actually preserve sleep,” Cummings says. 

“So we all experience stress, conflict, difficult emotions in our lives on a daily basis – we also experience pleasurable feelings as well. And in the course of a day, these events or emotions may not actually get fully processed. For one reason or another, what we’re feeling or what we’re thinking may have to go on hold. So what happens is the dreams at night serve to actually finish the job. So we are processing material from our conscious mind.

“Freud also said that dreams just really deal with the residue. So in order to help you stay asleep, the material which may be difficult has to be formatted in a way that allows you to stay asleep. Because if your conflicts and your difficulties were in a raw form, you actually wouldn’t be sleeping. So what our brain does is it symbolically represents those conflicts or those emotions in a way that allows you to stay asleep.”

With this in mind, Cummings explains that the vivid dreams we’re all experiencing right now are likely to be a product of the anxiety-inducing situation we’re all facing – as the coronavirus pandemic puts us under increased amounts of stress, our dreams are working overtime to help us process all those intense emotions.

“We know that dreams are functionally very important for clearing the emotional pathways, so I would say that when our waking life is more vivid then so is our dream life,” she points out. 

“At the moment, the pandemic that we’re all having to deal with will probably be mainly responsible for that vivid dreaming process. Our routines are suddenly all upside down. The rules have changed. We’re overloaded with information on a 24/7 basis. We can’t really avoid that really anxious exposure. 

A woman having a dream
The anxiety-inducing situation we're all facing could mean our dreams need to work harder to help us process our emotions.

“So I think what we’re seeing at the moment, and certainly what I’m hearing from people that I’m working with, is that our dreams are having a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of anxious content in these dreams. There are more nightmares, people are experiencing dreams that are waking up and disturbing them.”

Cummings also highlights that the need to learn new skills and adapt to a new way of life, whether that’s because we’re working from home for the first time or trying to navigate all the new social rules and etiquette that comes with the social distancing measures, is probably also going to be a factor in our vivid dreams.

“I would be very surprised to hear anyone say that they weren’t having vivid dreams,” she says. “The longer this lockdown and quarantine goes on the more our dreaming world will have to do a lot of extra work.

“Until we can start making the abnormal more normal, I think we’re going to see the results of the world what we’re living in in our dreaming life.”     

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.