Nightmares During COVID-19

Nightmares. Insomnia. Fatigue. At Bregman MD we’ve been seeing a lot of sleep disturbances, along with high levels of stress.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us even as we slumber! Vivid dreams and sleepless nights are on the rise. The cabin fever of social distancing is giving way to the uncertainty of reopening. How can we sleep well amidst all this tension?

One of the first doctors connecting dreams with psychology was famous neurologist Sigmund Freud.  Freud determined our dreams are where we process what happened throughout the day… and these days there is a lot to process for sure.

Firstly there is fear of the virus. That stress alone wreaks havoc on our sleep schedule. But now we must also navigate back into public life. The nervous energy often runs amok when we try to sleep. Falling asleep is always harder when ruminating about looming challenges.

That energy also makes it difficult to fall back asleep once awoken. Stress is closely related to anxiety. And like anxiety, it activates our fight-or-flight response. It puts us into a heightened state of poise – the opposite of what we want before bedtime.

When this happens, dreams can become more vivid and negative.

Stressed patients report a 35% increase in dream recall, and a 15% increase in negative dreams or nightmares.

Our doctors and nurse practitioners have seen an explosion of pandemic-related nightmares. For example, some patients dream of getting coughed on or running away from something/someone. Some dream their friends are zombies – a metaphor for COVID-19.

Fortunately these sleep disturbances usually clear themselves up over time. But what about now? No one knows how long this will last, and as such the stress remains ongoing.

Here are 6 tried-and-true tips for getting a good night’s rest in these uncertain times:

  1. Structure your day.  Go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time. Our bodies respond to routine and it may help regulate our sleep schedule.
  2. Stay active during the day.This way there is less restlessness at bedtime.
  3. Use your bed for “bed things” only: sleep, intimacy, and rest when sick or injured.
  4. Get up and do something else until you feel sleepy again. Forcing sleep is one way to make insomnia worse!
  5. Melatonin is a chemical our brains create to make us tired. Ways to stimulate melatonin production include dimming the lights, avoiding bright screens, or even taking a supplement.
  6. Take a refreshing shower. After a warm bath or shower, our core temperature goes down making it far easier to fall asleep.

Finally, if nothing else works please reach out to a mental health professional or sleep specialist.

If these tips helped you get a better night’s sleep, head on over to our social media and hit “like” or “subscribe!”