Are you waking up more often these days from an unpleasant dream, even a scary nightmare?
Blame a combination of pandemic-fueled sleep changes, laced with a year’s worth of stress, sleep experts say.
“My patients have been coming in and telling me, ‘I have vivid dreams, I remember my dreams, I have nightmares,’” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
“This is something that we’ve seen in other traumatic events that occur around the world and in our country,” Dasgupta said. “So the fact that we’re having more nightmares during this pandemic doesn’t surprise me.”
The phenomenon started about a year ago, not long after lockdowns began around the world. Frontline workers were hard hit – a June 2020 study of 100 Chinese nurses found 45% experienced nightmares, along with varying degrees of anxiety and depression.
But nightmares have continued as quarantines and lockdowns stretched on, experts say. One reason: an increase in “night owls.”
Saved from a commute or more organized schedule, people began going to bed later and later as the pandemic wore on, Dasgupta said. Of course, they then sleep in later than normal, setting the stage for vibrant, colorful – even scary – dreams.
Here’s why: Sleeping in allows more time for a deeper stage of sleep called rapid eye movement, or REM, when the body consolidates and stores memories and restores the body.
A long stretch of REM occurs in the latter part of the night, typically just before you wake up, said clinical psychologist and sleep specialist Michael Breus, author of “Good Night: The Sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.”
Add in the worry, anxiety and stress of the pandemic, Breus said, and you have the perfect recipe for nightmares.
“When you’re getting more REM during stressful times, you get more REM nightmares. We’re calling this phenomenon ‘quaradreaming,’” Breus said.
Disturbing dreams during times of national stress are not new. Nightmares have always been a key issue for military veterans suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD.