Stress can affect the quality and length of sleep. Scientists have been collecting dream data during the coronavirus crisis, with surprising results

From going to bed too late thanks to endless scrolling through theories about the pandemic, to waking up in the night worrying, it is safe to say that Covid-19 is wreaking havoc with our sleep. A major survey conducted by King’s College London with Ipsos Mori showed that two in five people in the UK have reported sleep disturbance. Prof Bobby Duffy, the research lead and director of the Policy Institute at King’s, says: “There is a clear relationship between increased stress and impact on sleep; 53% of those who said they found the crisis stressful reported sleep difficulties.” But many people around the world are also experiencing a new phenomenon: pandemic dreams.

Most of us don’t often remember our dreams, but the anxieties of life in isolation and disruption to our normal sleep-wake cycles seem to be changing that. Several researchers are collecting dream data during the pandemic, including Dr Deirdre Barrett, a clinical and evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School. She explains that, although it seems that we are dreaming more often, we are actually remembering them better because we’re sleeping more, but also waking up more during the night. “With more options to sleep, including napping in the day and longer lie-ins, dream recall is maximised, but you have to wake up out of a dream to remember it. We know that increased stress is a cause of waking frequently during the night.”

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