Dr. Meagan Stanley
Q: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting my sleep and dreams and what can I do to improve my sleep?
Understanding stress dreams and finding ways to get a better night's sleep.
How is sleep being impacted by our current events?
This week I will be focusing on a topic that has been impacted most people—our sleep. We are all dealing with novel stressors, a change of routine, and uncertainty of some kind. In general, stress and anxiety, along with changes in physical exercise and our daily schedule, affect sleep the most. It is no surprise that people’s sleep is changing during this time. Some of us may be sleeping less, sleeping more, or having unusual or even frightening dreams.
Why are you having bizarre dreams or nightmares during COVID-19?
When we sleep, we access a more subconscious part of our minds. Dream analysts have explored the content of dreams for inception of the field of psychology, given that dreams may tap into deep, more subliminal thought processes. When individuals undergo stress or trauma, dreams reflect underlying fears, which is why many of us are currently having frightening dreams. Whether we are aware of it or not, the uncertainty of our world will impact us all, even if it’s in positive ways. The state of affairs is unlike any other time in our lifetime, and it is likely there is some level of underlying stress that this causes for almost everyone.
Although it would be interesting to look deeper into common themes of the dreams you are having, it is not critically important to daily wellbeing. It is important to remember that if you are having stress dreams, the content might not reflect the actual worries or fears at hand. Instead, you may dream of natural disasters, bugs, or a common stress dream, having your teeth fall out (strange, I know). In some instances, you may have worries related to different stages of our life, such as early childhood or high school. I often hear of dreams related to not passing school classes or graduating from adults.
How to reduce stress dreams
In general, the best way to reduce the frequency of strange dreams and nightmares is to calm your body and your mind. Exercise is essential for sleep quality. With our general activity level likely being less than before quarantine, we have to be more intentional with exercise. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily will help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep, and reduce stress and anxiety.
Tending to our physical bodies will improve sleep, but to reduce stress dreams, there are a few more steps. These include:
1. Significantly limiting news coverage
2. Reducing time on social media, especially before bed
3. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
4. Meditating, both morning and evening
How to improve overall sleep during stressful times
Even if you are specifically having issues with dreams, your sleep will still benefit from the aforementioned list. However, another important component of sleep hygiene is maintaining a routine. This might be something you are struggling to achieve during this quarantine, both for yourself and for your family, and it is vitally important for sleep. Creating uniformity between your days will ensure that your circadian rhythms synchronize with the schedule you hope to have.
The best way to achieve this is to go to bed at the same time every night. Our smartphones now have so many tools to ensure that we do this, including weekly sleep planners, bedtime reminders, and gentle alarms that help us begin our day without a spike in cortisol. Another way to help sync our biological clocks to our daily schedule is to get sunlight in the morning. It is important to immediately open our blinds in the morning and even go outside for a short 15-minute walk, if possible.
Reminder, stress is sleep’s greatest adversary. For more helpful tips for starting a stress-reducing meditation practice, visit my post here: https://www.meaganstanley.com/post/mindfullness-meditation-how-to
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