People around the world are having intense, vivid dreams during the lockdown. Experts decode how and why it's happening
On the Instagram page @quarendreems, you get to read an anonymous account of a 21-year-old from Newton about how their dad, their high school theatre teacher and some other men they were unacquainted with, got together and adopted a two-year-old girl. None of this happened. This, like the other 46-odd posts on the page, was a dream. Weird and vivid dreams have been reported the world over, as people continue to grapple with the pandemic, and experts say it's understandable. So, do we dare to dream, now? Here's a sampling from a few Mumbaikars.
Theatre artiste Sayalee Meshram has been lucid dreaming during the lockdown. It has left her confused. "I've had four instances where I've had erotic dreams featuring women. They were unknown faces. It was weird because I've never dreamt of this before and I'm straight. I'm also not in a relationship and don't feel like talking to any guy right now," she says. The 27-year-old who hails from Nagpur and is presently living there due to the lockdown attributes this stress to two things: worrying about the rental agreement of her Andheri flat and sleep patterns that have drastically changed; she sleeps by 4 am as opposed to her usual timing of 11 pm. And as a result of both, stress eating has now become the new normal.
City-based musician Soutrik Chakraborty, 29, of Fox in the Garden, is no stranger to wacky dreams but they have certainly got a lot more frequent during the lockdown. He recently dreamt about a woman, a survivor of sexual abuse, who had the power to cast spider webs whenever she got intimate with someone. In another, he was at a bar with an old Hollywood vibe surrounded by well-dressed people with mittens et al. "I'm always dreaming in a context closely related to what I did before sleeping — like binge-watching, for instance. I don't have control when I'm dreaming. I'm a passenger skipping through a storyline with jump cuts," he says.
Tryst with the past
If you do a quick Internet search, you'll find a slew of recent articles on dreaming about your ex. But the dreams of Priyanka Babbar, director of Small Tales Storytelling, often star two of her exes in the same episode. "They are not erotic or intimate. And we've had happy break-ups, too. But I think it's cropping up now because even though I'm happy with myself and work right now, I am craving some emotional dependence and physical intimacy. Human beings are social beings after all and we live because of each other," she says, but hopes that there is an end to this occurrence once restrictions on movement are eased.
Dreams are made of this
Dr Joy Desai
The first step to understanding this phase is to go back and look at the basis of dreaming, according to Dr Joy Desai, Director, neurology at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre. Dreams mostly occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep when the brain is most active and your eyes move quickly in various directions. "Muscles are immobilised and the only active ones are the eye muscles. Therefore, this REM phase is also called paradoxical sleep," he explains.
Having vivid dreams during the lockdown is not a new phenomenon per se, and sleep specialist Dr Seemab Shaikh attributes it to the prevalent uncertainty. Shaikh, the founder and national president of IASSA, HOD of ENT at Inamdar Multispeciality Hospital and consultant surgeon at KEMH and Sahyadri Hospitals, Pune, says that although such restrictive measures have caused sleep disturbances, it is a transient phase. "But if these dreams are detrimental to you in any way, it is best to have your fears addressed. Medication should be the last resort and refrain from over-thinking about the future. Take one day at a time," he says, stating that recurrent vivid dreaming persists in hyper anxious individuals.
Dr Seemab Shaikh
Dr Desai outlines three specific causes: emotional distress, sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption before sleep. The latter has been tackled in a study by Dr Timothy Roehrs and Dr Thomas Roth where they conclude that, "In healthy people, acute high alcohol doses disturb sleep." Dr Desai suggests that dreaming acts as a cushion to protect people from the emotional toll reality brings. "Imagine you've had an altercation with your boss in front of colleagues. It's an embarrassing experience to begin with. So, the brain has locked up this experience and the emotional content of not being pleasant," he says.
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