What do your weird lockdown dreams mean? An expert reveals all...
PUBLISHED: 09:33 10 June 2020 | UPDATED: 09:34 10 June 2020
During social distancing, many of us have reported having more vivid dreams than usual. Charlie Morley explains why.
Since going into lockdown in March, many of us have found that it’s impacted on our sleep. Increased anxiety and a change to our daily routines have disrupted our resting patterns. Some of us are reporting sleeping less and experiencing insomnia. Others are finding that they are sleeping more. And many of us have reported we’re experiencing much more vivid dreams than usual.
Charlie Morley has more than 10 years’ experience in the field of sleep, dreams and mindfulness and has written three books on the subject. He has been fascinated by dreams since experiencing lucid dreaming – where you become aware that you’re dreaming while you sleep – as a child. He also runs workshops and retreats and teaches sleep and dream practices to people, including armed forces veterans, with stress or trauma affected sleep patterns.
He says that it is the disruption to our usual routines which is causing our dreams to become more vivid. Usually when we dream, he says, much of it is the brain processing what has happened that day. But as during lockdown our daily interactions have decreased, there is less new information to be processed, meaning the brain fills the dream time by going deeper into the subconscious.
“A lot of our dreams are based on something that is called day residue – the content of your day showing up in your dreams,” says Charlie. “So we often dream about what we do in the daytime. Because your day residue is now so greatly reduced because maybe you’re not going to work, maybe rather than seeing a hundred people a day you’re seeing four people a day, rather than having loads of stimulus, of the outside world and your working environment, you’re now getting very limited stimulus in your household environment, essentially this means you have less day residue. So you might think that would mean that your dream time would get shorter, [but] you’re probably having more dream time and less day residue. It means there’s less content for the brain to work through, based on your daily activity, so what the brain has to do now to fill the dream time is to go deeper into the subconscious. Because of this it’s the perfect environment for having crazy dreams. There’s less for the brain to re-cap so rather than having day residue dreams you’re more likely to be able to have these far-out dreams.”
When it comes to interpreting what your dreams mean, Charlie says there can’t be one-size-fits-all explaination for what they symbolise.
“You can’t say that when people dream of cats, and that means XYZ, because if you had been traumatised by a cat when you were younger because it scratched your face and your other friend loves cats, if you both dream about a cat that would be a completely different interpretation. One of you dreaming about a cat is a trauma symbol, the other is a sign of something you really love.”
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However, he says, he believes that there is an explaination for three of the most common dreams – falling, being chased and flying, and that is to do with the way that our brains have evolved.
“Flying, falling and being chased are universal fears that we have,” he says. “Almost all mammals dream and scientists believe that dreaming evolved as a way of integrating trauma and preparing to help us survive in the outside world.
“So out of Caveman A and Caveman B, if Caveman A was dreaming about lions, tigers and bears all night and Caveman B was not and the next day Caveman A and Caveman B both meet a sabre-toothed tiger, who is more likely to survive? Caveman A, because he was dreaming about how to escape, how to chase it, how to fight it and how to hide up a tree from it.”
And what does he think about nightmares?
“Scientists believe that dreaming, and especially nightmares, have evolved to aid our survival,” says Charlie. “Nightmares give us a safe place for daytime fears to be expressed and witnessed, not so that they come to play in the waking state, but so that we are more prepared to meet them should they come to pass in the waking state.
“So we often dream of things like fighting and fleeing in dreams as a way to MOT our survival systems. We haven’t seen a sabre-toothed tiger for a while, but what if our boss gives us a hard assignment at work or something like that? Those are the new sabre-toothed tigers – the challenges of daily life.
“The night before a holiday, you have a nightmare or anxiety dream that you can’t find your passport or that the roads are blocked and then you miss your flight. If you have that dream before you go on holiday, you are less likely to miss your flight than had you not had that dream. Why? What’s the first thing you do after a dream like that? You check, where’s my passport? You Google are the roads open? Nightmares prepare us for threatening events in the waking state. Not so that they come to pass, but so they don’t.”
To find out more about Charlie Morley, see charliemorley.com For his work with veterans and stress or trauma affected sleep patterns see mindfulsleep.org
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