Harvard psychology professor Deirdre Barrett studied trauma-induced dreams after the 9/11 attacks and the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Now, she’s studying how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting our subconscious while we sleep.
Since March, thousands of people have shared their dreams in an online survey Barrett created, and she has noticed some common themes. For one, many people have reported they’ve dreamed about bug attacks.
“I think this is partly because of the slang term, we say 'I’ve got a bug' to mean, 'I’ve got a virus,'” said Barrett.
Barrett added that because the virus is invisible, the brain may be trying to plug in a visual representation, like a bug. Not all dreams have been about the virus itself. Many have reflected fears about the economic fallout, isolation, or school closures.
“There was a woman who was homeschooling her child who dreamed that the school sent her a message that they were going to have all of the children in her kid’s class come to her house,” said Barrett.
Other dreams have centered around the stay-at-home orders.
“People that were sheltering at home alone tended to have some exaggerated metaphors for loneliness or isolation,” said Barrett. “I have a bunch of dreams about people being put in jail or prison."
While these dreams are normal, they can be unsettling. Barrett said you can try to influence your dreams by focusing on a positive image as you fall asleep.
Barrett plans to continue collecting dreams until the pandemic is over so she can study how they evolve over time. You can send your dream information to her here.