I’ve noticed an upswing in nightmares since I began to shelter in place in March when the pandemic became a fact of life. Have you?
These days waking hours at our house are fairly ordinary, because let’s face it, novelists don’t get out much anyway. We work at home, and in my case, Proman does most of the shopping and errands. In fact for us, because we’ve remained healthy and so have our families, this moment in history has meant renewed time relaxing with jigsaw puzzles, morning walks in our quiet neighborhood, new television shows we wouldn’t have had time for in the past.
Night time is a different story. Suddenly, shutting my eyes means a trip through my subconscious into all the fears and horror I’ve managed to bury for most of my daylight hours.
Take a recent dream, for instance, the one which prompted this blog.
I’m at home (where else?) and suddenly I hear the roar of a crowd on our doorstep. They’re shouting and rushing down the street. And I realize something terrible has happened and everyone’s trying to escape.
I escape by waking up and not going back to sleep again for a very long time.
Interpreting our dreams.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to interpret that particular nightmare, does it? In fact trying to interpret our own dreams can be helpful in facing whatever is troubling us.
Dreams help us deal with strong emotions and they usually refer to something that happened in the last day or two, even if we’re dreaming about people or situations in our past.
Did you have a dream about a girl who bullied you in high school? You aren’t dreaming about her, but she’s become a symbol. Is somebody bullying you now? Is there a person or a situation you feel you had no power to get away from in the past 24 hours? Did someone belittle you? Did something else make you feel belittled or inferior? If you can identify that moment, can you now do something about the real life event or feeling?
I’ve started keeping a journal of my nightmares, just to see where they lead. You might find that helpful, too. Common themes will emerge, even if we don’t try to analyze them. And while facing our fears sounds more frightening them burying them, most of the time we will only see what we’re ready to. The journal might be a helpful nudge in the right direction.
Some experts suggest that after we write down the nightmare, we reconstruct it so that it ends positively and write that down, too. Worth a try?
Coronavirus Pandemic Nightmares.
According to an excellent article in National Geographic: “Nightmares… can be warning signs of anxieties that we might not otherwise perceive in our waking lives.”
Does observing quarantine affect our dreams? The same article says that some experts believe our lack of outside stimulation may throw us back into our past to find symbols and themes to help us cope with our present circumstances. Anxiety also leads to sleep deprivation, and since we’re waking more frequently, we remember more dreams.
Studies from several countries in Europe conclude that not only are we recalling more dreams these days, but our dreams are more negative. In fact, our dreams resemble those of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and, not surprisingly, the closer we are to being immersed in the pandemic the worse they become. Add that to the burden that our health care workers must bear.
Can we master our nightmares?
I’ve already mentioned a few possibilities. Recording your dreams might be helpful, but we can also take that one step farther and write a new version with a positive ending. Examining the past 48 hours to find emotions or situations expressed in the dream and addressing them can help. Realizing we’re not alone, that many other people are having nightmares or remembering troubling dreams these days, can be reassuring. After all, we’re social animals. Our experience isn’t extraordinary, and that’s soothing in itself.
We can also prepare for a better night’s sleep.
- We can choose our reading and television viewing with care, looking for upbeat entertainment in the hours before sleep. Network news comes on at 6:30 Eastern Time, and 7:00 might be a good time to shut down talk of the pandemic in your house.
- Since some medications influence the frequency of nightmares, we can check with our physician if our nightmares have increased after a medication change.
- We can avoid eating near bedtime. One study even equates junk food to more nightmares. Other experts believe too much alcohol, nicotine or caffeine is an issue, too.
- We can arrange our sleep space for better sleep. Ideally, bedrooms should be cool–60s to low 70s Fahrenheit is optimal. They should also be dark and quiet. We can turn off light sources and turn on white noise machines.
- We can listen to soothing music as we fall asleep. Check for music available to you. At our house Alexa plays “meditation music” from Amazon Music, and we tell her to “set a sleep timer” so that the music stops playing 30 minutes later. It helps.
- We can maintain the same waking and sleeping schedule.
- We can think about all we’re grateful for as we fall asleep. And if we find prayer helps, bed time is a wonderful time for it.
- We can visualize scenes and people we love and happy moments from the past.
But please be careful. Lack of sleep can be serious.
If nightmares become a serious threat to waking and sleeping and none of these suggestions are helpful, it’s time to see your doctor or a psychologist who can help you find ways to cope. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is a difficult time for everyone world wide. Do whatever you need to. There’s no point in suffering needlessly.