A sleep expert explains why you're having such vivid dreams during the coronavirus pandemic

A woman and a dog sleeping on a couch.Published on Insider.com on April 3, 2020.

A sleep expert told me the dreams may be helping us process information and emotions. 

Michael Grandner, director of the University of Arizona's sleep and health research program, told me two factors are likely at play. The first has to do with the brain's role in learning, emotion processing, and memory formation. 

"Dreams are our brains' processing and organizing and integrating and making sense of things," he said; and we're all trying make sense of the world right now. "We're dumped in this new environment and we're trying to figure out our place in it." 

Whether that processing leads to enjoyable dreams or panic-ridden ones may have something to do with how much media coverage you've watched and whether you've managed your anxiety in other ways, like by talking to family and friends, a study on college students' dreams after 9/11 suggests. 

Another key issue at play could be changing schedules: Many people are sleeping later these days, Grandner finds, since the normal life logistics of preparing for and getting to work and school no longer take up time.

"They're sleeping like a retired person," Grandner said. 

That's not a bad thing: The extra time, particularly in the morning, may allow your brain to complete another REM cycle or two, the type of deep sleep during which most vivid dreams occur. "Before, we stopped the movie before we got to the interesting part," Grandner said. "Now, we might not be doing that." 

Eventually, he suspects, these midnight showings may become less frequent or exciting as our bodies catch up and adjust. Right now, they're "rebound" dreams. "It's like when you've been holding your breath for a while," he said, "those first few breaths are good ones." 

Release Date: 
04/03/2020 - 3:45pm
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