What your Covid-19 dreams mean – and when it's a sign of something serious

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has been a living nightmare for many people.

Many have lost loved ones, struggled financially and some have even battled the virus themselves.

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Experts have now claimed that the pandemic can actually influence your dreams.

Researchers used artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the dreams of thousands of people.

They found that of those who reported distressed dreams, more than half said Covid-19 had crept in at some point.

Experts in Finland crowdsourced sleep and stress data from more than 4,000 people during the sixth week of the lockdown.

Around 800 people contributed information about their dreams.

Many of the dreams reported revealed that people were experiencing stress and anxiety about the pandemic.

Dr Anu-Katriina Pesonen, head of the Sleep & Mind Research Group at the University of Helsinki and her team transcribed the content of the dreams from Finnish into English word lists.

Top tips on how to fall asleep

Many people are struggling to get to sleep as the coronavirus continues to be at the top of the agenda.

There are things you can do to make sure to get all the sleep you need.

  1. Keep a sleep diary: Dr Patrick McNamara says addressing bad dreams can help you understand what they mean, meaning you won't feel aprehensive about hitting the pillow.
  2. Have a routine: NHS England says sticking to a routine, getting up and going to bed at similar times each day can help improve your quality of sleep.
  3. Wind down: Try and step away drom the screens before you go to bed and try to relax your mind, the NHS recommends a warm bath, and relaxation exercises.
  4. Be sleep friendly: All of us are spending a lot of time at home at the moment but it's important to try and keep your bed just for sleeping. Making your bedroom sleep friendly is a great way to get to sleep. Keep it dark, quiet and tidy

Dr Pesonen said dreams about Covid could be a sign of a more serious condition.

"Repeated, intense nightmares may refer to post-traumatic stress," she explained.

"The content of dreams is not entirely random, but can be an important key to understanding what is the essence in the experience of stress, trauma and anxiety."

After the context of the dreams had been transcribed the data was then fed into an algorithm which scanned for frequent word associations or clusters.

The study has been published in Frontiers in Psychology and Dr Pesonen said: "We were thrilled to observe repeating dream content associations across individuals that reflected the apocalyptic ambience of COVID-19 lockdown.

"The results allowed us to speculate that dreaming in extreme circumstances reveal shared visual imagery and memory traces, and in this way, dreams can indicate some form of shared mindscape across individuals."

"The idea of a shared imagery reflected in dreams is intriguing," she added.

The team found 33 common themes.

Twenty of the dreams were categorised as bad dreams with 55 per cent being related to the coronavirus.

Common themes

Common themes were catching the virus, people failing to adhere to social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and gloves.

Some even experienced dystopia and apocalyptic like scenarios.

Word pairs in one cluster included: mistake-hug, hug-handshake, handshake-restriction, handshake-distancing, distancing-disregard, distancing-crowd, crowd-restriction and crowd-party.

Dr Pesonen said while the approach is novel – it could offer insight into stress levels during the pandemic.

The study found that more than half of the participants found they had slept more before the start of the pandemic.

It also found that 10 per cent found it hard to get to sleep – this could be due to a racing mind and not being able to switch off.

A quarter also reported more frequent nightmares.

Half of the participants also reported increased stress levels – this was also linked to bad dreams and disrupted sleep.

The participants who reported high stress levels were also the people who had more pandemic specific dreams.

Dr Pesonen said sleep is a central factor when it comes to mental health and said the study could provide insight into how we assess the impact of the pandemic on mental health.

One expert previously highlighted that some dreams carry images that can signal impending or oncoming illnesses and we should therefore pay attention to our dreams.

Dr Patrick McNamara from the University of Boston said dreams can also reflect emotions that needed to be acted on.

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