Increase of Pandemic-Associated Dreams and Nightmares During Home Confinement Due To COVID-19

woman in bed, night terrors, insomnia
Using crowdsourcing to examine how COVID-19 lockdown affects the content of our dreams and nightmares.

Individuals reported an increase of bad dreams during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) home confinement. These findings, from a crowdsourcing survey, were published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Collaborating with the Helsingin Sanomat, the most widely circulated newspaper in Finland, researchers from the University of Helsinki recruited participants (N=4275) to respond to a short dream report. Between April 27 and May 5, 2020, individuals reported their dreams and details about their life experience during confinement due to COVID-19.

The survey respondents were aged mean 42.6 (standard deviation [SD], 13.7) years, 79% were women, 57.5% worked from home, 12% worked outside the home, 8.7% were unemployed, 35.3% lived with a spouse, 34.5% lived with children, and 24.8% lived alone.

Most participants (56%) expressed that their stress levels had increased during the confinement compared with 22.1% who were experiencing lower stress and 21.9% who’s stress levels were unaffected.

More women reported increased stress levels (P <.001), increased sleep duration (P <.001), and increased nightmares (P <.001) compared with men.

The investigators observed an association between increased stress with frequent awakening (rs=0.43; P <.001), sleep latency (rs=0.37; P <.001), frequent nightmares (rs=0.29; P <.001), shorter sleep duration (rs=0.26; P <.001), and irregular sleep rhythm (rs=0.182; P <.001). Conversely, those who reported a decrease of stress reported longer sleep duration (73.9%) and more regular sleep (44.9%).

The frequency of dreams was correlated with stress levels. Dreams were reported by 27.4.5% of those with a high increase of stress, 20.5% with a moderate increase of stress, 13.0% with no change to stress, and 17.8% with lowered stress (c2=58.427; P <.001). Women (c2=72.423; P <.001) and those who worked (c2=23.022; P <.001) were more likely to report dreaming.

Participants provided a list of words which described their dream content. Among all participants, a subset of dreams clusters were pandemic-specific. Participants’ dreams were reported to contain content about disregard for distancing or travel difficulties and overcrowding.

The number of dream content clusters was associated with perceived stress level, the most stressed collectively reported 27 dream clusters and the least stressed reported 11.

Among all participants, the dream words which had the highest degree of centrality were “surgery,” “soldier,” and “running.” For the most stressed individuals, “surgery,” “doctor,” and “help” were most frequently connected. The dream content for the most stressed individuals included pandemic-specific nodes and among the least stressed individuals typical bad dream content was reported.

A limitation of the methodology for this study was that bad dreams or nightmares were not self-reported. Instead, a panel of judges reviewed reported dream content and decided whether or not it was a distressing dream.

These data indicated that pandemic-related and distressing dream content was increased during the COVID-19 home confinement. Individuals with increased pandemic-related stress and women were more susceptible to pandemic-related sleep disturbances.


Pesonen A-K, Lipsanen J, Halonen R, et al. Pandemic dreams: Network analysis of dream content during the COVID-19 lockdown. Front. Psychol. 2020;11:573961. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.573961