Pandemic impact on sleep and mental health

A study from the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University in Australia showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted sleep habits and dreams for people around the world.

The findings come from a global mental health and sleep study of more than 2,000 participants during the pandemic, 45% of whom said they experienced changes in their dreams. . of result It was also shown that participants who were monitored for 12 months had more negative dreams, such as experiencing nightmares and dreams of threatening scenarios such as disasters and war.

Melinda Jackson, a senior lecturer and sleep psychologist at Turner University, who co-authored the study, told Monash University: lens Many said they dreamed more in the early stages of the pandemic.

“These dreams were portrayed in high resolution. They were more vivid and colorful than usual, with greater visual clarity, but often with a strange, bizarre twist.”

Jackson also noted that during the early stages of the pandemic, participants’ dreams were more negative, with individuals experiencing more nightmares and dreaming of threatening scenarios such as disasters and war.

“I can’t remember much now, but the dreams were unsettling, colorful, and sometimes frightening. Generally mass deaths from war. Sometimes I wake up,” said one participant. .

Epoch Times photo
A study found that participants’ dreams were more negative in the early stages of the pandemic.(Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock)

The impact of the pandemic on sleep

Jackson suggested that the possible reasons for the change are threat simulation theorywhich claims that people experience more vivid and bad dreams during times of stress as they prepare for the reality of the current threat.

“After wars, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks like 9/11, we’ve observed an increase in vivid dreams and nightmares,” Jackson said.

The level of stress hormones a person experiences also plays a significant role in disrupting normal sleep patterns.

“Our brain is actually very active during rapid eye movement sleep, the stage of sleep where we experience more bizarre and vivid dreams,” said co-author of the study, a psychologist at Turner University. PhD candidate Hayley Meekrim said.

“The visuospatial regions of our brain become very active, along with the emotional and memory centers. All of this can be heightened under stress, leading to more vivid dreams and nightmares.”

Another reason for the altered dreaming experience could be the changes in sleep patterns that have occurred during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen changes in sleep and wake patterns around the world. Lockdowns and work-from-home requirements have allowed many to sleep late,” Jackson said.

“We experience more REM sleep towards the end of the night, but setting your alarm to wake up early for work can help you get less sleep.”

“This natural sleep extension we saw during the pandemic could have led to increased dream recall, simply because they were sleeping longer and getting more REM sleep.”

REM sleep is the state of sleep in which the brain is most active, and it appears to make people more vulnerable to fragmentation in people experiencing chronic hyperarousal.

Epoch Times photo
When people are stressed, they experience more negative and vivid dreams. (Egg Egg/Shutterstock)

Pandemic dreams had survival themes

“The Pandemic Dream had a real ‘survival theme,'” said Meaklim.

“There were many dreams about death and people were worried about the safety of their family and friends.

One study participant said he experienced nightmares of loved ones getting sick or dying.

But not all participants experienced pandemic-specific dreams. Meaklim said few people dreamed of catching the virus or taking protective measures like masks and social distancing, but COVID-specific content became a “small sub-theme” of participants’ dreams. It wasn’t too much.

After dividing the participants into three groups (those who developed insomnia during the pandemic, those who experienced sleep disturbances pre-pandemic, and those who slept well), the study found that those who had the most difficulty sleeping They also pointed out that their dreams changed during the pandemic and that their dreams had a negative tone.

The group that developed insomnia during the pandemic had the highest rate of dream changes, with 55% of participants experiencing bizarre dreams. However, they outperformed the group of participants who had no trouble sleeping, with only 36% of them reporting changes in their dreams.

Furthermore, when researchers employ Liguistic Inquiry Word Count Comparing responses from different groups found that those who developed insomnia during the pandemic had more disturbing, death-related dreams.

“Overall, insomniacs had more negative and frightening dreams when they finally fell asleep than those who slept well.

insomnia and memory

Meaklim said the team has several theories as to why people with insomnia experience more changes in dreaming than people who sleep well.

“One is that if you wake up immediately after having a dream, you’re more likely to remember it,” she said.

Therefore, insomniacs are more likely to remember their dreams if they wake up frequently during their sleep. moreover, REM instability hypothesis of insomniaPeople with insomnia have unstable REM sleep and wake up during dream time.

However, insomnia does not help with memory other than dreams.

“Sleep is a critical process for memory formation and consolidation, and sleep deprivation is known to impair memory function the next day,” Jackson said in an email to The Epoch Times.

She said that insomnia is related to deficits in declarative memory, that is, remembering events and objects.

“Thus, reported memory impairments during the pandemic may be related to the increase in insomnia experienced by many people around the world since 2020.”

Alarm, clock, ringing. Woman, awake, awake, in, early, morning, at work.
Understanding the underlying causes of insomnia is the first step to a good night’s sleep. (Elder Nurkovich/Shutterstock)

Effects of Insomnia and Nightmares on Mental Health

Jackson said chronic insomnia — a long-term pattern of sleep disturbances — can lead to a variety of mental and physical health problems.

She said people who suffer from chronic insomnia are at increased risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. increase.

Regarding mental health, Jackson said sleep disturbances are a risk factor for the “development and maintenance” of mental conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“Longitudinal studies have shown that insomniacs have a four-fold increased risk of developing depression years later, even if they have had no previous depressive episodes,” she said. “Therefore, it is very important to address sleep issues early to prevent potential mental health issues from developing.”

“Changes in dreams have been found to worsen mental health symptoms over time, and this effect was more pronounced in people with insomnia.”

Fortunately, participants reported a reduction in such vivid dreams and nightmares about 3 months after study initiation, and another reduction was observed between 6 and 12 months of follow-up. Most people found improvement in dreaming and difficulty falling asleep. After the initial anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic has passed.

Treatment of insomnia and nightmares

For those who experienced insomnia and nightmares during the pandemic, Jackson noted that there are now promising treatments for both problems.

“So if you’re still having trouble sleeping, I encourage you to seek help,” she said.

“The most powerful evidence-based treatment for insomnia is Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is as effective in relieving symptoms as medication and lasts longer. “

According to her, CBT-I treatment is usually administered by a psychologist specially trained in sleep disorders.

Together with a psychologist trained in CBT-I therapy, CBT-I explores the relationship between a person’s thinking, behavior and sleep to help identify the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that contribute to insomnia. .

“Not many people know about this treatment and don’t get it because they don’t want to take pills to sleep,” Jackson said. “Talk to your doctor about these behavioral options.” I recommend that you do.”

The researchers hope the results of this study will help achieve better mental health recovery after the pandemic and spur the development of new treatments for insomnia and mental health problems.