Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Anecdotally, I have heard that people are experiencing more nightmares as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold of our lives and led to uncertainties about our present and future. One health and wellness professional noted how several of her patients were complaining of nightmares. On several occasions, I have read about a perceived increase in nightmares in the papers. On my Facebook feed, I have seen friends post and share with one another about them.
Just today, I read an article in which Josh Freed of The Gazette writes that he had experienced a nightmare about cell phones and their transmitting of COVID-19. Interestingly, he also writes that people have been sleeping longer -- interesting because my last post was about how some night owls are enjoying the surprising benefit of good sleep because they don't have to wake up as early to go to work.
However, today, let's focus on nightmares.
Two researchers, Schredi and Goeritz, write, "Nightmares are characterized by awakenings primarily from REM sleep with clear recall of disturbing mentation, typically fear-related but also other emotions like anger, disgust, grief can occur."
In other words - as you already know - it is a bad dream to the extreme. Mentation simply means what is going on in your head at a certain point -- loosely, your thoughts. If you remember A Nightmare on Elm Street (for those of you old enough to remember it), you'll remember how everyone in it was desperately trying to avoid sleep and, in particular, REM because that was when Freddy would be there... waiting.
(Hmmm, thinking back, I probably heard of REM for the first time ever in that movie.)
Many of us have experienced nightmares.
However, did you know that women tend to report greater distress from nightmares than men, according to a study by Schredi and Goeritz?
Interesting, isn't it? The exact explanation for why that may be is still unclear.
The issue with experiencing distress from nightmares, though, is that it is associated with sleep deprivation, which -- if you've followed this blog -- you know is related, in a two-way relationship, to other issues like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression.
On another note, there is now some work being done to find out if having these intense bad dreams is related to lower than normal levels of hormonal stimulation on a neurological level. In other words, something may be going on in terms of the way your stress hormone is released in your body that is related in some way to nightmares.
However, in general, we look at nightmares from the point of view of psychology or psychiatry. We know that life events (both traumatic and those things that you are going through at the moment) can act as triggers for nightmares. Stress and anxiety influence your having one. So, it isn't surprising that what we are going through right now is affecting not only our ability to fall asleep (insomnia) but also could be reflected in an uptick in people's experiencing of nightmares. Right?
So, here are a few things that you might want to do to help yourself:
a) Good sleep hygiene... yup, if you don't get enough sleep, you also tend to have more nightmares;
b) Limit nighttime snacking... yup, eating late at night stimulates your brain and makes it more active... in general, though, you really should not eat right before you go to bed for several other reasons, including the fact that the times that you eat also influence your body clock;
c) Relax... yup, relaxation techniques that you can use throughout the day can help (e.g., breathing exercises, etc.);
d) A safe haven... yup, one of the things that promotes relaxation and that is also a part of sleep hygiene is making your bedroom a safe space for yourself. Do what you need to do to make your bedroom as relaxing as possible. Do you find the scent of essential oils or the lighting of scented candles comforting? Then, use them...
Sleep is part of your overall health and well-being. What you do during your day and how you learn to manage your everyday does bear fruit in how well you sleep... and vice versa. The great thing is this - you can learn how to manage the anxieties and stresses of daily life... and you can learn how to sleep well. This is a comforting thought in itself.
We'll be coming out with a video guide on what to do about nightmares soon. So, keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, we've prepared a cheat sheet for you that you can download. Get it here: https://tinyurl.com/ysavtkus
Until next time, we wish you a good night and sweet dreams!