Can't sleep or having weird dreams during the coronavirus pandemic? You're not alone

Our lives have already changed significantly because of the coronavirus pandemic and, to make matters even worse, many people have reported problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night.

So, if you've experience that, or have had wild dreams since you've been in quarantine, Dr. Meg Danforth with Duke University Psychiatry says you're not alone.

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"First of all, I think it's really important to know that it is a basic survival mechanism to not sleep deeply under times of stress," she said. "If you think about our caveman ancestors, if they knew there was a saber-tooth tiger on the prowl, it was their advantage to not fall asleep very hard. They needed to be able to wake up quickly to respond."

As it turns out, this pandemic is a lot like that.

"We don't have any actual saber-tooth tigers around but we've got another enemy and it's invisible and it's really frightening to folks," Danforth said. "So, for all of us, we're not sleeping as deeply, we're not sleeping as well and literally it's a survival mechanism."

But even though dealing with insomnia can feel miserable, there is some good news.

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"There's no evidence that having insomnia right now is going to affect your immune system or make you more likely to catch COVID-19," says Danforth.

"It feels lousy and I don't want to minimize that people who aren't sleeping right now are tired, they're cranky, they're having to work harder to get things done in their heads that might feel like they're cutting through brain fog. But it's not actually harmful, it's your body trying to protect you."
She has some tips for how to help your sleep issues:

  • Keep a consistent body clock
  • Don't try to go to bed unless you're tired
  • Quiet your mind
  • Take a bath or shower
  • Do some stretching or yoga

And if you're having crazy dreams?

"Dreaming happens during REM sleep," said Danforth. It's actually pretty easy to wake up out of REM, that's why often we do remember our dreams. If you're having less deep sleep right now because of COVID-19, that means that may translate into more light sleep, more awareness of dreaming."

So what does she suggest? An exercise:

"It involves writing the bad dream down," she said. "And then we have you rewrite the dream. People who do this actually report fewer bad dreams per week. The dreams that they do have are less intense and less stressing for them."
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