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Boredom And Anxiety Add Up To Vivid Pandemic Dreams


Masks, Clorox wipes and working from home are all part of our new reality during the pandemic. And something else - uncommonly vivid dreams have also been infiltrating our nights these days.

CHARLES BRIDGEMAN: I keep having this dream where there's a monster in the room, and I can't really see it. And then right before it attacks me, I wake up covered in sweat.

SCOTT SIMON, BYLINE: I was in an elevator with my family, and the doors open. It was my father, who died when I was 16. He just smiled and said, I'm dead; I don't have to wear a mask.

NATASHA PAULMENO: So the other day, I had a dream that I saw Dave Chang, the chef, and that I was asking him for his unfiltered, unadulterated feedback on my coronavirus recipes.

ALEXANDER MCCALL: I am late for what is apparently my Broadway debut, and I'm arriving at the theater just before the curtain is supposed to go up. And I turn to my director in a panic and I say, I don't know anything. What am I supposed to do? And my director looks me straight in the eye and says, just wing it.

REBECCA RENNER: Someone convinced me that I had to teach a Zoom Jazzercise class, and they said it was going to be wildly popular, but I didn't believe them. And then Lin-Manuel Miranda was the first to sign up. But usually, my dreams are nothing like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those were peeks into the minds of Charles Bridgeman, our own Scott Simon, Natasha Paulmeno, Alexander McCall and Rebecca Renner. Renner, who dreamed about the Hamilton star, recently wrote an article for National Geographic about why we're having such weird dreams. Apparently, not only are we cooped up and bored during our waking hours, but the subconscious is feeling the same. And it's digging deeper for stimulation and meaning.

RENNER: We sort of have the same old thing over and over. And since we don't have new stimuli, our subconscious has to reach deeper into our memories for inspiration. So that's why, out of nowhere, I have Lin-Manuel Miranda doing Jazzercise in my dreams.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's not just what's in our dreams that's different.

DEIRDRE BARRETT: People are saying they're remembering more dreams. They're more vivid. They're more bizarre.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Deirdre Barrett. She's a professor at Harvard, and she researches dreams. And she has a theory based on her own observations.

BARRETT: For the average people who are sheltering at home, I'm seeing a lot more anxiety dreams. And some of them are about getting the virus, rather overtly, they dream. And then there are a lot of dreams about trying to remember social distancing. Other people are crowding them or coughing on them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that anxiety makes us sleep less and wake up in the middle of the night, which I do a lot, or sleep more and dream longer. Barrett ran a survey of pandemic dreams, and the good news is not all of them are anxiety-driven.

BARRETT: There are a few really happy dreams where, even if someone gets the virus, they go and find an elixir in their medicine cabinet that cures it, or they find a doctor who has a shot that will cure it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if you want to avoid thinking about the coronavirus for at least a few hours during shut-eye, Barrett has this advice.

BARRETT: Think about what you would like to dream - maybe a favorite person you can't be with during this, maybe a beautiful spot that makes you feel happy and peaceful. And then, as you're drifting off to sleep, just tell yourself you want to dream about that topic. And that's both a very pleasant way to fall asleep, but it also often gets through to our dreaming mind.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if that doesn't work tonight, remember there's always tomorrow night and the night after that.


THE CORRS: (Singing) Dream, dream, dream, dream. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.

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