Lockdown has irreversibly changed our lives. Whether you are accepting of, resistant to, or reluctantly suffering through these measures, we're all responding to our new reality in different ways. In the UK, hair clipper sales have risen by 229% while in China, the number of new users of the language learning app Duolingo has more than doubled. In America, Land of the Free, gun sales are at an all-time high since the introduction of background checks in 1998.
Some are relishing this opportunity to lounge across the sofa and binge-watch television, while the rest of us are excessively pacing our living rooms like restless animals in a zoo enclosure. What we can all agree on, however, is that lockdown has changed when we wake up as well as the quantity and quality of our sleep.
I thought it was just me, but it turns out lockdown is messing with all of our heads. Google searches for 'weird dreams' have doubled since this time last year. More specifically, searches for 'why am I dreaming about my ex' have increased by an astonishing 2,450% compared to last year, a comforting statistic after my dream about being the guest speaker at a conference hosted by my exes.
Freud called dreams the 'liberation of the spirit'. Well, if my 'quarandreams' are anything to go by, consider my spirit thoroughly unfettered. In the last few weeks, I have dreamt that I was about to sit my Advanced Higher music exam despite not having practised all year (I never took Advanced Higher music), that I missed my own Zoom wedding because I had the wrong meeting ID (I am as far from engaged as Earth is from the sun) and that I kept trying to pay for a round of drinks at a bar with a slice of cheese (and was appalled when it wasn't accepted as legal tender). Just last night, I had a dream that my bed was surrounded by a moat guarded by an inflatable, yet simultaneously very real, shark.
One reason for the quarandream phenomenon is the fact that most people are getting more sleep. According to a survey conducted by King's College London, 62% of people in the UK are getting just as much sleep, if not more, than before lockdown measures were brought in on 23 March. Deirdre Barrett, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, says that because many people aren't being woken up artificially by alarm clocks, or are at least waking up later than usual, they're having more complete sleep cycles and subsequently experiencing periods of deeper sleep. It is during these periods of deeper sleep when dreams tend to be most vivid.
Freud also said that dreams are a way of processing material from our conscious minds: the weirder the time, the wackier the dream. This isn't the first time that our heightened emotional states have crept into our subconscious. After 9/11, many New Yorkers reported dreams of being overwhelmed by tidal waves or being attacked or robbed, visions that are commonly associated with feeling overwhelmed or a worsening negative mindset. The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak means that our minds are working overtime to digest this bizarre cocktail of grief, cabin fever and increasing financial pressures.
Some of the most common dreams people have reported during lockdown include the dreamer running away from something or discovering that they've committed a crime. According to a group of psychoanalysts in London currently studying the phenomenon, dreams like this are symptomatic of anxiety and stress. Other common dreams involve someone wanting to hug the dreamer, who lashes out and protests as though they are about to be killed. The National Geographic
has also reported that people are projecting fear of coronavirus onto threats like zombies, insects, murky figures and other metaphorical representations of the pandemic.
On the bright side, these post-apocalyptic visions are incredibly normal. A thicket of uncertainty has become the new landscape of our everyday lives and our minds are just trying to navigate us through this unchartered territory. Talking to the New York Times
, Dr Barrett claims that reducing our anxieties by, for example, imagining a positive scenario or looking at a photograph that evokes a happy memory before we sleep could potentially help temper some of our night-time nuttiness.
Chances are, our dreams will continue to process our COVID-19-related trauma even after life has resumed some semblance of normality. It's an unsettling prospect, but I'll take that over a conference with my exes – virtual or otherwise – any day of the week.