With our routines shaken up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising to see that a ritual like sleeping would also be disrupted.
For Ontario residents in the midst of businesses reopening after being shuttered for more than 70 days, the stress is definitely slipping into their cerebellums. Countless Ontarians are reporting less restful sleep, but for two very different reasons.
“Crazy crazy dreams.” That phrase has popped up in more frequent conversations as people talk about what is going on inside their heads at night.
If you’ve been having wild, interactive visions at night, you’re not alone.
Dream experts say without the usual daily stimuli, our brains lack inspiration, leaving our subconscious minds to fill the void with experiences from our past. Stress, isolation and changes in sleep patterns affect our dreams.
“We normally use REM sleep and dreams to handle intense emotions, particularly negative emotions,” said Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine who is an expert in dreams, in an interview with National Geographic. “Obviously, this pandemic is producing a lot of stress and anxiety.”
Deirdre Barrett, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of The Committee of Sleep, says you can teach yourself to dream more positive thoughts than negative with a little pre-bedtime homework.
She works with patients to “script” their dreams, by asking them how they want them to end then having them write down those thoughts. With a little practice, the dreamers realize they are in a made-up world and can change the narrative.
The other major disruptor of sleep right now in Ontario arises from brains overrunning with concerns about family members or personal health as people leave their homes after weeks in isolation.
“I feel like I’m taking care of so many people right now that I can’t turn my mind off to relax,” says Nancy, who works at a seniors’ residence.
One school principal admits she laid awake restlessly the night before going out to mail out 55 packages to her students’ parents from a nearby pharmacy.
“I only knew one day in advance or I’m sure I would have lost more sleep,” she says. “I hadn’t even been going in to get my own prescriptions filled, yet there I was. Leaving the house and having less control over my surroundings seems to be the no-sleep trigger.”
With so many businesses and their employees in limbo, people worry about what is next for them and their families.
Meanwhile James has run his own business for years and wonders if it will survive.
“I worry that I won’t find an appropriate job, that my current medical issues could be the surface of way bigger problems – it’s a big list!”
“This pandemic has shown how fragile we really are as a society,” he adds. “What keeps me up is how people are treating each other.”