Last night I had a very odd dream. I was on holiday somewhere sandy and hot and Bruce Springsteen was working as a cocktail waiter in the pool bar. I asked him for a glass of wine. He said they were out of wine, but there was a delivery due later. As he was speaking, a huge bird landed on the bar with a fish in its mouth and began eating it. A large black cat sat watching, but didn’t make any moves towards the bird. As I admired the cat, it changed colour and became a white cat.
Funny thing about dreams, nothing ever seems strange while you are in the dream. For example, I didn’t seem to think it was at all odd that Bruce Springsteen was a cocktail waiter. Apparently, it is quite common to have dreams about celebrities: One night last week, another dream involved my being in an office block, just before having to do a big presentation with Sophie Raworth from BBC News! I had forgotten my notes and I didn’t want to have to explain this to Sophie, so I ran down the building stairs and left! (Poor Sophie!) And then I was running up beautiful green hills.. (Think The Sound of Music)… At the top of one of the hills, were some magnificent black horses. One came over, so I jumped on his back and we took off, galloping at great speed. As we negotiated a particularly high jump, the horse stumbled and hurt his leg. Luckily, David Beckham appeared at this point having seemingly retrained as a vet. Again, I seemed to accept this with no surprise at all.
I asked friends and family if they were also experiencing weird dreams. The answer was a resounding yes – ever since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis and Lockdown. Having a quick look on the internet confirms that vivid strange dreams are ‘a thing’ at the moment. Obviously, I’m lucky in that mine don’t have any nightmarish qualities, but I’ve heard that this is also something that a lot of people are experiencing.
Dreams have always been a source of fascination for us. Since 1899 when Freud wrote The Interpretation Of Dreams in which he explained that dreams represent a “disguised fulfilment of a repressed wish”, the study of dreams has provided us with some limited understanding of the unconscious activities of the human mind.
Freud also believed that the purpose of dreams was to help our sleep. Every day whilst we are awake, we experience worry, fear, conflicted emotions, and stress as well as the happier thoughts and feelings. Our brains face a constant barrage of information and emotional responses. And, because we are so busy during the day, lots of these thoughts and feelings may be ‘swept under the carpet’ to be dealt with later. It is then, through our dreams at night, that we can finish the processing that is required.
Typically, we all have approximately five dreams every night. And, whether we remember or not, we all dream in our sleep. It is an necessary function for the brain, and and we are not the only species. We have all seen pets dreaming in their sleep, wagging tails and twitching noses as they chase rabbits and mice. Those of us that say that they don’t have dreams, probably just can’t remember them. According to experts, we only remember a dream later on if we wake up during the dream. We dream during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, and if our sleep is disturbed due to stress, then we may remember in more detail than normal. Some experts believe that we are effectively eliminating unimportant bits of information by dreaming, and moving important short-term memories into our long-term memory. It may be that people who can remember dreams have a stronger ability to memorise things in general.
At the moment, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, there is a lot of upheaval, worry and change, and it would therefore make sense that there is more to process now. It also follows that dreams are going to be more vivid and more emotional, reflecting the way that we are feeling at the moment. As human beings, we struggle with uncertainty and many things are currently up in the air.
We also need to consider the current change of pace many of us are experiencing, as we work from home and no longer face travelling every day. We are probably sleeping longer and more deeply, and dream recall is easier when you have time to reflect on waking, rather than jumping out of bed to the sound of the alarm going off.
The good news is that these dreams, however vivid, are nothing to worry about. It is perfectly reasonable and understandable that we are having anxious thoughts during the day which are translating into vivid dreams at night. If you are experiencing nasty dreams, there are some things you can do to ease the situation:
Try not to consume too much news. Limit yourself to an hour or two a day and don’t watch any updates just before bed.
There are some great downloads that can help: Try ‘Sleep-Stories’ or listen to the gentle sounds of rain on the Calm app. MindSpace is great and there are some very helpful sleep tracker apps.
Write down specific worries that you have at the moment. Next, write down as many details of the dream as you can remember. Are there any links you can see? Sometimes getting the dream or nightmare out of your head onto paper can help identify and process the feelings that have generated them.
Get as much exercise as you can during the day and go to bed when you are tired.
Establish a regular routine before bed. Do only things that are relaxing before going to sleep, read a book or listen to music, have a bath or try a bit of meditation.
Talk about the dreams with friends and family and rewrite the ending or the nasty parts in your mind.
If you are trying to stop having a particular dream, finding out what is causing it is key. Consider the worries and fears that may be behind the dream. Once you start actively working on the fears that are causing a nightmare, it can change the intensity and feel of your dreams dramatically.
Finally, there are a lot of posts on this blog that may help. Search for anxiety or worry in the search bar, or have a look at these two in particular:
Right, I’m off to bed. Perhaps Bruce at the pool bar has had that delivery of wine in by now…. 😬