Covid Nightmares Can Haunt Us All

Trouble Sleeping? You’re not alone. 

Erika Johnstone reports sleep disturbances have been increasing in New Zealand and around the world since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people using social media to speak about their experiences.

Many people report having unsettling dreams about family members getting sick and being separated from loved ones, or strange dreams that make little sense.

Essential worker Brad Wija said his dreams centred around being unable to get to his daughter if she became ill, as she is away at boarding school.

Massey student Kiera Joblin said her dreams had been negative, often about the “end of the world” and feeling she could not escape the situation.

Dr Rosie Gibson’s research

Research Officer Dr Rosie Gibson from Massey Wellington’s Sleep/Wake Research Centre says that having disrupted sleep and vivid dreams is normal considering the situation.

Dr Rosie Gibson

Stress, being separated from family, and the change in our schedules can all play a part in sleep disturbances.

“In dreaming sleep, the emotive area of our brain is a lot more active, the dreams are part of our brains processing the situation”, she says.

The way people are waking could play a part too, as waking naturally without

an alarm can leave dreams fresh in the mind, she says.

People being more aware and focused on their dreams could also lead to the increase in vivid dreams, says Ms Gibson.

Routine vital in stressful times

Sleep is important for our mood and general wellbeing but also for our immunity, so having a routine is important particularly in stressful times.

If you are having difficulty sleeping, Dr Gibson suggests ensuring you get exposure to sunlight in the morning and avoid exercise, coffee, alcohol, and blue light emitting devices before bed.

Keeping the bedroom a ‘sleep safe zone’ is also important in ensuring our brain associates the bedroom with sleep.

It is not something to stress over though.

Recognising that these are abnormal times

“We need to recognise that this time is pretty unique and it’s okay to have broken sleep and it’s quite normal to have nightmares… it’s all part of the process,” says Dr Gibson.

Massey Wellington’s Sleep/Wake centre is conducting a survey about New Zealander’s experience with sleep and wellness throughout the lockdown, and this is available through its website.

The centre also has resources for all ages regarding sleep and COVID available here:

https://www.sleepwake.ac.nz/what-we-do/covid-19-resources/.

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Editor’s note:

Erika Johnstone is in her final year of a Bachelor of Communications at Massey University.

While studying journalism and media studies she lives in Ashburton with her family — and as a distance student she has continued to study online during the lockdown. 

The original version of Erika’s reperot appears in this month’s ‘Massive’ magazine.

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