Pandemic nightmares: Effects on dream activity of the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy

J Sleep Res. 2021 Oct;30(5):e13300. doi: 10.1111/jsr.13300. Epub 2021 Feb 6.


COVID-19 has critically impacted the world. Recent works have found substantial changes in sleep and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dreams could give us crucial information about people's well-being, so here we have directly investigated the consequences of lockdown on the oneiric activity in a large Italian sample: 5,988 adults completed a web-survey during lockdown. We investigated sociodemographic and COVID-19-related information, sleep quality (by the Medical Outcomes Study-Sleep Scale), mental health (by the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scales), dream and nightmare frequency, and related emotional aspects (by the Mannheim Dream Questionnaire). Comparisons between our sample and a population-based sample revealed that Italians are having more frequent nightmares and dreams during the pandemic. A multiple logistic regression model showed the predictors of high dream recall (young age, female gender, not having children, sleep duration) and high nightmare frequency (young age, female gender, modification of napping, sleep duration, intrasleep wakefulness, sleep problem index, anxiety, depression). Moreover, we found higher emotional features of dream activity in workers who have stopped working, in people who have relatives/friends infected by or who have died from COVID-19 and in subjects who have changed their sleep habits. Our findings point to the fact that the predictors of high dream recall and nightmares are consistent with the continuity between sleep mentation and daily experiences. According to the arousal-retrieval model, we found that poor sleep predicts a high nightmare frequency. We suggest monitoring dream changes during the epidemic, and also considering the implications for clinical treatment and prevention of mental and sleep disorders.

Keywords: adverse events; continuity hypothesis; health; mental sleep activity; sleep.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Communicable Disease Control*
  • Dreams*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Young Adult