Dreams are mysterious as it is, but you might have noticed a change in them during the coronavirus pandemic. As we settle into yet another lockdown - the third in less than a year - for many people dreams have suddenly become way more vivid, and way more memorable. Often you'll find yourself waking up in the morning, freshly engrossed in the cryptic world you'd imagined during your slumber, desperate to know what on earth it was all about.
If this sounds like you during lockdown, you're about to be able to decode it all. We asked Theresa Cheung, author of The Dream Dictionary from A to Z, to outline some of the most common dreams people are experiencing at the moment, and to explain what they might mean.
First, though, why are we dreaming so much more lucidly? "We are having more vivid dreams because our sleep schedule has either been interrupted by the lock down or we are having more sleep than usual," advises Cheung. "Both sleep disruption and longer sleep time increase the likelihood of having more REM stage sleep, which is the sleep stage where most dreaming happens."
And it seems dreams are actually a useful mechanism for our brains - even if they don't appear to make much sense. "Our dreams act like an internal therapist and are a way to help our brains process and make sense of our waking lives. With so many stressful and new things happening in our lives right now, our dreaming mind has a lot of new material to process and help us make sense of - hence lots more vivid dreams," says the dream expert.
If you've noticed your dreams are more highly emotional than usual, Cheung suggests this could be because "dreams typically reflect our emotional state. Many of us are understandably feeling uncertain and anxious right now, so it really isn't surprising that our dreams reflect that intense fear. It's our dreaming mind's way of helping us release these fears in a safe way - emotional dreams are cathartic and healing," she says.
The reason you're probably recalling your dreams so much more at the moment is because we've slowed our lives right down, creating more space to reflect. "Everyone dreams. If you think you don't dream, you do. You are just not recalling them. One of the main reasons most of us don't recall our dreams is because the minute we wake up our mind focuses on the many to dos in our busy day ahead," says Cheung.
"Dream images fade instantly from our memory on waking unless we make an effort to recall them. They just can't compete with the business of our daily lives. But right now many of us are sleeping in longer and slowing our mornings down. We also - unless we are key workers - have much less to do in the day because of the lockdown. The upside is that this gives our dreaming mind a chance to take centre stage when we wake up."
Death of loved ones or pets
"This is linked to our waking knowledge that many people are actually going to die. It is not a prediction that your loved ones are going to die. The virus is simply making us all contemplate our mortality. If you have lost a loved one your dreaming mind may also be pulling you back to that pain, but if you have not suffered a bereavement death dreams wake you up to the fact that none of us lives forever. Dream deaths suggest endings, but with every ending there is a new beginning so this dream could also indicate the death of our old way of life because we all sense that our pre-virus and post virus life is going to be very different."
Being stuck somewhere and not being able to leave
"This is a metaphor for the lockdown and our fear that it may never end."
Work, job, house melting or gone
"These are all more dream metaphors symbolising anxiety that our old routines and way of life may never return."
Being late, missing important calls or meetings or phone malfunctioning
"All these dream themes are linked to the new way of life we are all experiencing and our anxieties about how well we are adjusting to it, or how people we care about are adjusting to it."
Very detailed bizarre dreams with real plots and storylines
"The dreaming mind may sometimes try to offer you relief from the constant waking anxiety caused by the virus by entertaining you with wonderfully bizarre dream scenarios or plots that might just take your mind off the pressure for a while."
Feeling ill and waking up gasping for air
"This is a clearly a symbolic representation of fear of contracting the virus. The dream illness can feel so real that you wake up experiencing symptoms. Please don't think this is a premonition. Remember dreams are not real. They simply represent your emotions or feelings."
Being nude or using the toilet in public
"Being exposed or humiliated in public in a lockdown dream is related to fear of being exposed to the virus if you leave your house, when you are indeed at an increased risk of exposure."
Wading in mud, being suffocated, or being chased
"These are all dream metaphors for fear of being contaminated by the virus and your desire to protect or cleanse yourself from that contamination."
Family members or loved ones with superpowers
"This encouraging dream expresses your hope that loved ones, especially those who are not living with you right now, will be able to protect themselves and stay safe during these tough times."
"Disaster dreams - whether the disaster is natural or man made - symbolise the feeling that your life is out of control and there is no way to avoid facing that. That's how all of us are feeling right now. We don't have control over the virus but we do have control over how we choose to react. We can choose to follow the safety guidelines and protect ourselves and our loved ones and we can choose to be mindful and think of others. Apocalypse or end of the world dreams have the same interpretation."
"Dreaming of car or plane accidents or any kind of accident suggests the need to be extra vigilant or cautious in waking life, as all of us are required to do right now."
"Dreaming of falling can be both liberating and alarming. Liberating in that you may be relieved that your life is on pause right now due to the lock down and your loved ones are safe. Alarming in that you may be feeling unsupported by others and uncertain about your future."
"Water in dreams is a potent symbol of your feelings, so if you are drowning this suggests you are letting your emotions rather than your logic make decisions for you right now. You are letting yourself be submerged by fear or anxiety about the virus when there are ways to keep your head above water if you follow the guidelines and take care of yourself and others."
Being in an out of control car, plane of vehicle
"This suggests that you feel you have no control over the current situation. Remember, although you have no control over the lockdown you do have control over how you choose to react to it. It's time for you to get in the driver's seat of your life - or if you are the driver and not a passenger in your dream car - to drive more skilfully and take charge of your thoughts, feelings and reaction to the lockdown."
Sleep talking (when you don't usually)
"Sleep talking does run in families and can be related to underlying medical conditions, like sleep apnea. It can also be triggered by extreme stress so if you don't usually sleep talk but are now the behaviour has likely been triggered by the stress of the lock down. During REM sleep our eye muscles twitch more rapidly when we are dreaming. Sleep talking is acting out, or in this case speaking out, elements of our dreams."
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