Quandary over ‘Qurandreams’

Did you wake up in a puddle of sweat and fear? Dr Payal Sharma Kamath tells you why you are having super-vivid dreams during the pandemic
Last Updated 24 August 2020, 19:15 IST

While the world is still battling the Covid-19 pandemic with people staying put at home and away from each other — they are united by a psychological contagion — ‘quarandreams’. In the midst of this pandemic, apart from the swollen case-load numbers from across the globe, the number of reports of super-vivid dreams have not only surged dramatically, but people are also claiming that they are now recalling the dreams in detail and that effects of the dreams have taken a toll on their mental health and are lasting longer.

From apocalyptic to mundane, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many adults and children have reportedly been suffering from intense dreams, nightmares and hallucinations, common symptoms of which are waking up in a pool of sweat, fear and feeling anxious — often triggered by dreams with themes including hospitalisation with poor healthcare services, loss of job, loss of family members, caught amid natural disasters, etc. Widely described, through social media channels, super-vivid dreams are more commonly known as ‘quarandreams’. These have garnered attention as scores of individuals seek help in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Why are we collectively going through it?

There is still inconclusive data about what is the purpose of dreams in human biology, but it’s linked with memory processing and consolidation. It also reflects
one’s predominant mood, thoughts and stress of course. Several people wake up and have no idea what they had dreamed, while other times, they can closely recall the dreams because they were too intense. These are known as vivid dreams.

Hypnagogic hallucinations are imagined sensations that seem very real. They occur as a person is falling asleep, and are also referred to as sleep hallucinations. Stress and anxiety during this pandemic have increased the cases of hallucinations during sleep.

What are super-vivid dreams?

As previously stated, stress and anxiety during this pandemic have increased the cases of hallucinations during sleep. People are increasingly consulting doctors to explain ‘weird’ or ‘bizarre’ dreams that they are facing these days. It can range from person to person wherein a non-healthcare professional could be dreaming of being held hostage in a closed dark room by an invisible enemy (in this case the coronavirus) which could be triggered because they are staying at home to keep themselves at bay from contracting the virus or from spreading it further on.

Do dreams and hallucinations occur in certain stages of sleep?

There are several stages within one night’s sleep. First of all, we get drowsy. Our brain activity begins to lull and we move quickly into the light, then deep sleep — these three stages together are what’s known as non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. After around an hour’s sleep, we move into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Both REM and non-REM sleep are vital for the brain — any disruption to either has been observed to affect mood and memory in particular — and we cycle between the two several times during the course of the night. About 25 per cent of an adult’s night of sleep is spent in REM cycles. The average adult should get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health. While we don’t yet fully understand exactly what happens in our brains while we sleep, our current best theory is that non-REM sleep is restorative, rejuvenating our neurons, while in REM sleep, our brain is focused on consolidating memories.

Are dreams just a pattern of thinking in a multiple biochemical state?

When one sleeps, their brain is still active, but their thoughts or dreams often make little or no sense. This may be because the emotional spaces of the brain trigger dreams, rather than the logical regions. While we think of sleep as a time for recharging the body, the brain is actually quite active during sleep — dreaming. Our dreams can be soothing or scary, mysterious or helpful, and realistic or fantastical. People are most likely to remember the last dream they’ve had in their sleep cycle. But it’s possible to remember a vivid dream long after it’s occurred if it seemed very intense as the brain is operating at a much more emotional level than when you’re awake, your brain may make connections regarding your feelings that your conscious self wouldn’t make.

Nine reasons why we are having such dreams?

Given the symptoms of ‘quarandreams,’ let’s understand the possible reasons why people are countering such dreams:

Change in the sleeping pattern: For many people, sleep pattern has changed drastically — they are sleeping at irregular times; binge-watching web series late in the night; continuing office work till late night; waking up late; snoozing alarms as there’s no rush to reach offices, and sleeping for longer hours than usual. It affects the balance of NREM and REM sleep pattern, which in turn increases the time spent sleeping during REM phase of sleep — increasing dreams and more remembered dreams.

Stress: Emotions have major roles in our dreams. This pandemic has increased the emotional issues including stress and also the sensitivity of many people. So not surprisingly, more people are reporting vivid dreams.

Sleeping during the day: Or longer naps/ naps at wrong times during the day. There is more REM sleep than NREM increasing more vivid dreams during the day time.

Medications: Some medications reportedly induce vivid dreams. The medications include beta-blockers, antidepressants, Parkinson’s disease drugs, blood pressure medications, etc.

Substance abuse: Overconsumption of alcohol, drugs, or sudden retrenchment from drugs can initiate vivid dreams.

Health disorders: In line with stress/ anxiety, several other mental health conditions including depression and schizophrenia are associated with vivid dreams.

Early pregnancy: As pregnancy impacts changes in hormone levels of one’s
body, sleep, pregnant women can experience vivid dreams, during the early days of their pregnancy. This pandemic has increased a lot of worries about illness, our health and health of our dear ones, financial issues, job-related worries, restrictions of movement, lesser options for recreational activities, and reduced social interaction with friends and relatives, which in turn has increased negative thinking that reflects in our dreams.

How to overcome it?

Pivoting onto an exact cause of vivid dreams is, however, difficult and hence it is assumed that the dreams will go away with time. However, seeking medical treatment and lifestyle modifications are suggested if the vivid dreams are causing emotional distress or physical problems. One can follow some common treatments for vivid dreams like:

Try to maintain the same sleep routine. Get up at the same time and sleep at the same time every day.

Try bathing with warm water before going to bed.

Avoid tea, caffeine during late evenings. Use the bed only for sleeping and not for any other purpose such as watching movies; working on a laptop, eating snacks, etc.

Dreams are a reflection of our thoughts before bedtime, hence reading or watching the light and spiritual/ motivational books or simple positive imagery and positive remarks can shape our dreams.

(The author is a psychiatrist)

(Published 24 August 2020, 19:03 IST)

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