How our Dreams Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Effects and Correlates of Dream Recall Frequency - a Multinational Study on 19,355 Adults

Nat Sci Sleep. 2021 Sep 22;13:1573-1591. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S324142. eCollection 2021.


Objective: Many have reported odd dreams during the pandemic. Given that dreams are associated with mental health, understanding these changes could provide crucial information about wellbeing during the pandemic. This study explored associations between COVID-19 and dream recall frequency (DRF), and related social, health, and mental health factors.

Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional web survey of 19,355 individuals in 14 countries from May to July 2020. We collected data on COVID-19, mental health, sleep and DRF during the pandemic. We performed McNemar Tests to compare low (<3 nights per week) and high DRF (≥3 nights per week) before and during COVID-19 and to evaluate changes in sleep variables segmented by DRF. Chi-square tests were conducted to compare characteristics between low and high DRF. Logistic regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between various independent variables and DRF.

Results: Reports of high DRF during the pandemic were higher than before the pandemic (P<0.001). Female gender (aOR=1.25, 95% CI 1.10-1.41), nightmares (aOR=4.22, 95% CI 3.45-5.17), sleep talking (aOR= 2.36, 1.73-3.23), sleep maintenance problems (aOR=1.34, 95% CI 1.15-1.56), symptoms of REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD; aOR=1.24, 95% CI 1.09-1.41) and repeated disturbing thoughts (posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms) were associated with high DRF. Age group 55-64 years (aOR=0.69, 95% CI 0.58-0.83) reported less high DRF than younger participants. Unadjusted OR showed associations between depression, anxiety, and DRF; however, in adjusted regression depression (aOR= 0.71, 0.59-0.86) and anxiety (aOR=0.79, 95% CI 0.66-0.94) were negatively associated with high DRF.

Conclusion and relevance: DRF was higher than pre-pandemic levels across four continents. DRF was associated with gender and parasomnias like nightmares and RBD symptoms, sleep maintenance problems, PTSD symptoms and negatively associated with depression and anxiety. The results implicate that COVID-19 is reflected in our dreams as an expression of the emotional intensity of the pandemic.

Keywords: collective threat; mental health; parasomnia; sleep; sleep disorder.

Grant support

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.