Multinational study to investigate link between COVID-19 and vivid dreams

Has COVID-19 affected your sleep? Have your dreams become more vivid? Do you experience virus-related nightmares? Do you find yourself thinking about the virus in your daily life?

A multinational team of researchers from Finland, the UK and Australia’s Monash University are collaborating on a study investigating if the mental wellbeing of individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on their dreams and daydreams.

Monash Senior Research Fellow, Philosophy, Dr Jennifer Windt, said it was well-documented that people have been feeling concerned about the consequences of the virus for themselves and their family members.

“These concerns, together with social distancing and isolation, are associated with increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. These in turn can be related to changes in sleep quality and dream and daydream experiences,” she said.

“There is some evidence that during the coronavirus pandemic people are getting more sleep, which may increase dream recall. Many also report that they are having more vivid and emotional dreams and more nightmares. There is also evidence that while people are sleeping more, the quality of their sleep has diminished.”

Dr Windt said the association between higher levels of COVID-19-related concerns and anxiety and more negative dreams and daydreams had yet to be investigated systematically.

“Because nightmares are associated with sleep and mental health disturbances, which may continue well into the post-pandemic period, individuals who experience changes to their dream experiences may be at an increased risk for adverse outcomes,” she said.

“We know that the emotions and moods we experience when awake are related to the emotions we experience in our dreams – our dreams tend to be a reflection of our waking wellbeing and illbeing.”

Beyond shedding light on the link between dreaming, daydreaming and wellbeing, Dr Windt said there are several theories around dreaming and consciousness that could be explored in the context of the study.

It has been proposed that while dreaming we practise important skills, such as perceiving threats and engaging in social behaviours, which is beneficial to our waking life.

“It will be interesting to see whether people dream more about virus-related threats, like getting infected, and whether social isolation changes the kinds of social interactions we have in our dreams,” she said.

There is also evidence that dreaming and daydreaming are connected and dreaming is an intensified form of daydreaming.

Researchers believe dreaming and daydreaming, including emotions, might also rely on the same brain mechanisms.

“The current pandemic is a unique opportunity to investigate how a global event influences people’s subjective experiences across sleep and wakefulness,” she said.

“To do this, we need to understand the actual mental content of those experiences: what people are dreaming and daydreaming about and how this relates to their emotions, both in waking and in sleep. We hope that many people will support us by taking part in the study.”

The team is currently seeking participants for this study. Participation is completely anonymous and will involve filling in a wellbeing survey and providing daydream and dream reports (one of each per day) over a two-week period.

Those interested in participating must be at least 18 years old and live in Australia, Finland or the UK.