Just this morning, I jolted wide awake wayyy before my alarm clock went off. I’d had the craziest dream: I had a boyfriend who was not only really cute, but smart in a hot way, rich, and super attentive but not clingy. After an initial moment of joy (the coronavirus thirst is real), I quickly realized that this dream guy was, in fact, a dream. Let’s be honest, none of us have ever met a man that checks all these boxes. Turns out, I’m not the only one having f*cking bizarre dreams during the COVID-19 pandemic. The other day on the Diet Starts Tomorrow podcast, Betches co-founders Aleen and Sami sat down with Dr. Deirdre Barrett, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, to discuss why our dream lives have gotten all screwed up from being stuck at home.
Why Our Sleep Is Being Affected
One huge reason we’re all experiencing weird dream lives is because we’re literally just sleeping more, according to Dr. Barrett. With state-wide lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders in effect, people are spending way more time at home than usual, allowing for random naps, late wake-ups, and passing out on the couch at 8pm from your fourth glass of wine (not judging—it’s always Wine Wednesday in quarantine). While we tend to have ramped-up anxiety dreams during any crisis, the extra sleep we’re getting is pretty unique to this pandemic. According to Dr. Barrett, “In most crises, people end up getting less sleep, but in this one, the average person is getting more because of the lockdown orders and the furloughs from work and school. I think we go around a little bit chronically sleep-deprived and we’re catching up on sleep right now, and so we have a big rebound in our dream life.”
What Types of Dreams People Are Having
If you’re having crazy anxiety dreams rn, you’re not alone. Turns out, if you’re freaked out about the virus IRL, it’s likely that you’ll be angsty in your sleeping state, too. For a lot of people, these panicky dreams don’t mention the virus outright, but manifest their anxiety in metaphorical—and freaky—ways. In a recent survey, Dr. Barrett found that bug-themed nightmares are the most common metaphor for corona (so yeah, murder hornets are def coming for you during your next REM cycle). She thinks part of this is due to our use of the word “bug” as slang for a virus, “but in a deeper sense, just lots of little things that cumulatively could kill you make them a good metaphor.” Great, time to go lock all of my windows.
If you’re on the more ~practical~ side (I’m talking about you, fellow quarantined Virgos), you might have dreamt that you actually had the virus. Waking up thinking you’re spiking a fever or having trouble breathing is really common, Dr. Barrett says. Virus dreams can also be super absurd (the dream sequence in The Big Lebowski, anyone?). One woman in Dr. Barrett’s survey reported dreaming that she looked down at her stomach and saw blue stripes on it, which dreamt-up medical authorities had told her was the first sign of COVID-19.
While the average person’s dreams are all wack because of general pandemic anxiety, many healthcare workers are having the ultra-realistic trauma dreams often experienced by combat veterans. “They’re dreaming literally about a patient who’s dying of the disease,” says Dr. Barrett. “They’re trying to put a tube down them, or the respirator is malfunctioning, and they’re trying to save their life and failing. That’s the nightmare, based on something that happens to them by day.” Because real life isn’t stressful enough for those on the front lines—they get to relive their daily pressures in their dreams too.
What These Dreams Mean
Apparently, these same types of dream patterns happened post-9/11. Like our present-day healthcare heroes, Dr. Barrett recalls, “the first responders and the people who’d barely gotten out of the lower floors, and the people working in Manhattan…were the ones that had nightmares as bad as wartime.” At the same time, average people were anxiously dreaming about the attacks, like most of us are dream-panicking about the virus today.
And as if they weren’t already suffering enough, lots of patients with COVID-19 are experiencing fever dreams. One patient in her survey dreamt that doctors were replacing his lungs with robot parts (can you imagine??). “In the dream, he was ascribing his trouble breathing to the fact that he didn’t know how to use the robot lungs,” says Dr. Barrett. She says this type of fever dream likely signifies the patient’s “fear of having to be on a ventilator, but maybe just more broadly, a fear of what was happening in his lungs.”
Fever dreams can also make normal things totally terrifying. While I wouldn’t mind a dream transporting me from my couch to a tropical island, for patients who are stuck in hospital rooms, changes in location can be completely jarring. According to Dr. Barrett, fever dreams “are probably not from a normal state of sleep. We think they’re sort of a hybrid of sleeping brain states, waking brain states, and just completely abnormal brain states all superimposed on each other.” Fever dreams can throw you for a loop and completely blur the lines between hallucination and reality.
How To Get Better Sleep
If you’ve been experiencing especially weird dreams since quarantine started, Dr. Barrett recommends keeping a dream journal in your spare time (which you now have plenty of). After all, Twilight was based off of a dream Stephenie Meyer had, so who knows? You could soon be sitting on the next hit YA series. And if you’re not sleeping well, crazy dreams might not be the only culprit, so be sure to practice good sleep hygiene. We all love a good late-night Netflix binge, but the blue light from our precious phones screws with our bodies’ ability to produce melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Dr. Philip Westbrook, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, recommends that we put down electronics an hour before bedtime so our brains can relax. Establishing a pre-bedtime routine also helps our bodies destress and prepare for a good night’s sleep. This might include taking an Epsom salt bath, flowing through a few yoga poses, or doing your daily skin care routine. Do whatever helps you destress, but avoid getting too emotional. Texting your ex is NOT an appropriate activity when turning in for the night (or ever, tbh), because it makes your body produce stress hormones.
The pandemic won’t last forever (right, Dr. Fauci?? Please confirm), but know that you’re probably not the only one in your group chat having crazy dreams. For now, focus on making changes that will help you get better sleep, and you’ll hopefully avoid further dreams about wasp attacks or unrealistic boyfriends.
For more insight from Dr. Barrett, listen to the Diet Starts Tomorrow episode below.
Another week, another hookup horror story. This week’s latest awkward sex from U Up? will definitely make you feel better about your own hookups and relationships—yeah, it’s that insane. Let’s dive in.
Hey J and J,
Love the podcast! It makes me feel I have a superpower for understanding the male mind. All my friends totally love all of the unsolicited advice I give them about their love lives now.
I know y’all have gotten a few sleep talking awkward sex moments but this one was way more than talking. I have a once-or-twice-a-year booty call thing with a guy I dated for 2-3 months a couple of years ago. Last night he came over and after hooking up, he fell asleep immediately (Like every guy).
Like. Every. Guy. Lol. No after sex spoon sesh? Not even a kiss goodnight?
I knew from our previous hook ups that he has some really weird sleep habits – twitching, flaying his arms, sleep talking etc – and so I was having a hard time sleeping next to him.
Brennan? Dale? Is that you?
In the middle of the night, he rolled over and was like “I want you to sit on my face right now.” I said “what?” And he said it again and kind of pulled me up on top of him and he started going for it. I was up there for a minute or so but something was just a little weird and I was like what the fuck it’s 4 am I’m going to sleep. So, I … um… dismounted and he immediately did the twitching thing that he does in his sleep.
This may be the funniest part of this whole situation. Not the fact that in his sleep he wants her to sit on his face, but the fact that she didn’t realize it was weird until after the fact.
I thought he had just fallen back asleep really fast. A few mins later he rolled over so that we were spooning and he started talking about how he wanted to have sex with me. He was kind of trying to but not really, so I started to think he was sleep talking. I told him that I wanted to go to sleep (obviously I have moral qualms about having sex with someone who is asleep even if they are asking for it haha) and he rolled back over.
Is it that obvious? I mean you sat on his face a few minutes ago??
Then – for his grand finale- he turns to me and goes “hey I love you and I’m sorry about Saturday.” I looked at him like he was crazy and he grabbed my face and repeated it again: “I LOVE you and I’m so sorry about Saturday!” He 100% does not love me so that was definitely confirmation that he was still asleep. Who knows who he was actually dreaming about!
I love how she calls this the “grand finale.” I find that hilarious. At this point in the night, I would be laughing so hard I would wake him up and tell him about all the weird sh*t he’s put me through that night, then have him call me an Uber home.
I asked him in the morning if he remembered the middle of the night romp and he had no clue what I was talking about so I think he was asleep for the whole thing. Maybe he has sex insomnia which I’m pretty sure I heard once about on Law & Order: SVU? Obviously I didn’t tell him that he told me he loved me because I knew he’d think I was fully insane. I can’t believe he could literally eat me out in his sleep, but the “I love you” thing makes me sure he was out cold.
I WISH this girl asked him questions the next day, or at least told him everything that happened.
Hope this makes y’all laugh! I’d love to know if you think this is even possible!
Also the phrase “wake up sleepy pussy” was involved somehow? 🥴🤢
What would you call this?
The Night Rider? Dream Girl? Night of the Living Head?
I actually laughed out loud to this letter. If someone ever said these things to me in their sleep, I would be concerned and uncomfy…100% a deal-breaker for me.
Find out what Jordana and Jared thinks about this on the latest episode of the U Up? podcast.
Images: Adi Goldstein / Unsplash