How do you sleep? If you have strange dreams or nightmares, you are not alone, according to a new study that confirms the “invasion” of fear and stress caused by the coronary pandemic in our dreams.
Anxiety Fear and confusion are the dominant elements that fill our dreams in pandemic time, according to a new study that attempts to “dive” into our subconscious to understand how the unprecedented situation experienced by people worldwide in the face of the threat of coronavirus affects dreams.
The study was conducted by Leela McKinnon, Erica Kilius and Noor Abbas, graduate students at the University of Mississauga in Toronto – in the department under Anthropology professor David Samson, whose current research examines the theory that humans have evolved and nightmares as a form of rehearsal/preparation for real threats in their daily lives.
In this light, they collected data on 84 University students from 22 countries, who were asked to describe their dreams during the first phase of the quarantine imposed due to the pandemic. An important element of the study is that they were also asked to report if they felt that their cultural background influenced the content or interpretation they gave to their dreams.
Then, their responses were evaluated on the basis of the main axes of dream analysis: characters, social interaction, environment, emotions and misfortunes.
Anxiety, fear and confusion were the top emotions participants said they experienced in their dreams. They also mentioned that their dreams were more vivid and they had more nightmares than good dreams.
About a third of respondents recalled having dreams specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including details about precautions, such as masks, or social distancing measures.
One student said he dreamed of having lunch at a restaurant and the bill he received was the same amount as his tuition fee.
“That’s exactly what we would expect if outside anxieties and fears come into dreams, because that’s what people are experiencing in real life,” says Leela McKinnon, pointing out that dreams seem to be related to external stressors and may have a kind of functionality, explaining that further analysis could support the idea of “threat simulation”.
Among the participants, women had much more often negative dreams or dreams where they were subjected to aggressive behavior compared to men. According to Noor Abbas, the interpretation that could be given to this is that there is a difference in the way women and men perceive threats.
“The fact that we observe this in more women than men may suggest a difference in the way they rationalize an external threat in their dreams,” she says.
As for the possible correlation between cultural background and pandemic dreams, almost a quarter of respondents said that cultural background played a big role in how they interpreted their dreams.
For example, one participant reported dreaming of snakes – usually a good sign in Hindu tradition. Another said he was seeking safety even when the danger had passed, which he attributed to his cultural background.
“Threat perception is dependent on your culture,” adds Noor Abbas, noting that the way external threats are understood is perceived in the same way.