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By: Brendan Duffy on April 16th, 2020

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Pandemic Dreams or COVID-19 Nightmares? (Social Isolation, Stress, and Sleep Hygiene)


“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality."- Jonas Salk.. Discoverer of the Polio vaccine

Dr. Jonas Salk spoke of good dreams in his famous quote above.  Unfortunately, as we wait for a vaccine for COVID-19, many people are experiencing dreams of a different type…

These are termed pandemic dreams, anxiety dreams, nightmares, or very vivid dreams.  Whatever you call them, they are new and sometimes frightening experiences for these dreamers and often understandably unsettling and confusing to many.  They ask why all of a sudden they are dreaming and remembering these dreams.

Social Isolation Contributing to "Bad Dreams"

We are living through a difficult time and could surely use the expertise and wisdom of Dr. Salk to help us navigate the Coronavirus’ uncharted waters.  This pandemic has turned our “normal” upside down with regard to just about every aspect of our lives. We now are spending our days and nights in social isolation unless we are part of the group labeled as essential workers. 

For some, this time of uncertainty has caused an understandable amount of anxiety and concern.  For some, this has increased their levels of depression and loneliness.  And these emotions are manifesting themselves not only during wake times, but also during sleep as people try to make sense of their new reality.

Unemployed, Homeschooling, Media, and First Responders 

Our pandemic days and nights have been drastically reshaped.  Some perhaps sleep later. Or maybe they go to bed later.  Many are now unemployed or furloughed   Parents are now directly involved in the schoolwork of their children who are now home and getting their schoolwork via electronic teachers. 

Others are glued to the television trying to get the latest updates on this killer virus and seeing horrific images of refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals to handle the many unfortunate individuals that sadly have succumbed to Covid-19. 

Our first responders are working long hours on little sleep to try to stem the tide of this outbreak. And sleep for many has become a cinema of unsettling visions and emotions.

We don’t know why we dream, but it appears that anxiety and stress can cause us to dream and remember our dreams more readily.

Purpose of Dreaming in Stressful Times

During our sleep, it is believed we try to consolidate memory and make sense of what information we have taken in during the day.  With some of these current memories being painful (especially for our frontline healthcare workers) this is proving to be a very difficult process for our brains to handle during sleep.  Our sleep can become overwhelmed as we try to reconcile the daily flood of sad news or deal with difficult personal situations. This can result in very strange dreams that we are not accustomed to experiencing.  It also can cause us to wake up during the night in a fearful fit.

So how can we deal with these pandemic dreams?

Minimize Stress and Anxiety to Improve Sleep

We need to minimize the stress and anxiety the best we can.  We must try and control what we can control. 

Here are some helpful sleep hygiene suggestions that may help with that:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule – even though you may be home, try to maintain a consistent schedule which will help your mental and physical wellbeing and provide some sense of normalcy in these abnormal times.
  • Limit your exposure to the vast amount of information that is causing you to react in an anxious manner. This may mean less TV news about the Coronavirus, unemployment, heartbreaking hospital patient stories, or upsetting political pundits.
  • Refrain from alcohol as this will fragment your sleep and cause you to wake up often and be unrefreshed during the daytime.
  • Reduce stress – try breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. Many free offerings of anxiety reduction tools can be found online to assist with stress reduction.
  • Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex. We should associate the bed as a time for sleep and not for watching television or paying bills etc.
  • If you are drinking more caffeine than normal now that you are home, be careful if you find you are having more difficulty falling asleep. Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep and may reduce total sleep.


While we sadly don’t have Dr. Salk to help us solve this current Coronavirus pandemic, we can rest assured that a cure will become a reality- hopefully in the near future!  And that hope for a swift cure is one dream we all share!

COVID-19 Resources for Sleep Technologists

AAST will continue to build out this webpage as a repository of resources for the sleep technologist community. If you have any questions, please send them to info@aastweb.org.  Please visit our COVID-19 Resource page for regular updates here. 

View the COVID-19 Resources Page