If you thought you were the only one having weird or extremely intense dreams during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re certainly not. CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, has been talking about the weird hallucinations he’s had from the related coronavirus fever, and yesterday told his older brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, about a dream where the Governor was wearing “a very interesting ballet outfit.”
During a press briefing on April 2, the Cuomo brothers yet again got into a strange conversation, boasting their own brand of brotherly love. Governor Cuomo began the conversation by telling his brother that Chris looks “fit and fine”; Chris responded by talking about his fever dreams.
“You came to me in a dream," Chris said to the governor. "You had on a very interesting ballet outfit, and you were dancing in the dream, and you were waving a wand and saying, ‘I wish I could wave my wand and make this go away.’ And then you spun around and you danced away.” Governor Cuomo replied that there’s “a lot of metaphoric reality” to the dream.
In the same way that our daily routines have changed during the pandemic, the ways in which we spend our nights have transformed, too — particularly when it comes to our dreams. Anecdotally, many people have been having odd and intensely vivid dreams during the coronavirus pandemic, whether they’ve been sick or not. Miriam, a woman living in New York, says that her fever dreams have been starting out normal, but by the end of the dreams she becomes conscious in the dream world and she feels out of control.
“For example, in one dream, I'm throwing a party in my parent's home (where I desperately wish I was), I'm focused on the cakes and desserts, picking them out, pairing them with the right fruit, decorating the house, tidying up,” Miriam tells Refinery29. “People are arriving, the desserts are set, and then I look around to see the whole room is filled, people in close proximity with each other, and then the panic hits. What have I done? All of these people have to leave immediately. They're too close, I've probably sentenced them all to death by now as they grab cake and talk amongst themselves. Before I get a chance to scream, to yell for these people to get out, I wake up.”
In an interview with The Cut, Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, said the spike in many people suddenly recollecting dreams has to do with the fact that the pace of people’s lifestyles have slowed down—at least for non-essential workers, and people who are staying at home. “Changing one’s routine dramatically often leads to more dream recall. The American population [usually] runs around sleep-deprived,” she says. “I hear more people who — both because their workaholic activities are interrupted and their partying is on hold — they’re sleeping more. I think that’s probably the single biggest factor.”
Barrett also explained that something called REM rebound could also play a role. When someone catches up on missed sleep, they can experience a surge in Rapid Eye Movement Sleep, which is the phase during which dreaming happens. To investigate, Barrett has been collecting data on people’s dreams during the coronavirus pandemic through an online survey. “The majority of dreams have anxiety as the main emotion,” she says as to what she’s been able to observe from the survey results so far. The dreams she’s collected from people have ranged from “terrified nightmares” to more metaphorical threats, or other weird metaphors like violent grasshoppers, swarms, or the like.
Nylah, a writer from Washington, D.C., says that while her dreams aren’t directly about COVID-19, her subconscious has still been returning to painful and traumatic events that take place in apocalyptic locations. “I guess what connects the locations is that they’re all empty or barren. Lots of dried out fields and empty neighborhoods and cities. I think it’s because I’ve been reflecting on all the ways that life is going to change when we emerge from quarantine... how empty places I used to go are now. And how I want to escape that trauma and build a different life for myself when I get out of quarantine,” Nylah says.
According to certain psychological theories like the threat simulation theory, human's dreams have evolved to be the way they are in order to let us work through the events in our days and allow us to process any fears or anxieties that have been living in the background of our brains, only in a low-risk environment. Ultimately, dreams are supposed to help us prepare for how to deal with stress and strange scenarios in our everyday lives.
In more normal circumstances with less mass psychic trauma and worry than most people are experiencing right now, dreams would be much less vivid and intense. However, during periods of stress like this global crisis, it makes sense that everyone's dreams are more wild than ever, almost like an episode of Stranger Things come to life. If you, too, are having intense dreams, trying some calming tea before bed, or perhaps melatonin might help — anything to avoid dreaming of Andrew Cuomo in a tutu.