Nightmare content during the COVID-19 pandemic: Influence of COVID-related stress and sleep disruption in the United States

Kathryn E.R. Kennedy, Célyne H. Bastien, Perrine M. Ruby, William D.S. Killgore, Chloe C.A. Wills, Michael A. Grandner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Nightmares are often associated with psychiatric disorders and acute stress. This study explores how the COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced the content of nightmares. A sample of N = 419 US adults completed online surveys about sleep and COVID-19 experiences. Participants were asked about the degree to which they agreed with statements linking greater general stress, worse overall sleep and more middle-of-the-night insomnia with the COVID-19 pandemic. They were also asked if, during the pandemic, they experienced nightmares related to various themes. Logistic regression analyses examined each nightmare content as outcome and increased stress, worse sleep and more middle-of-the-night insomnia as predictors, adjusted for age, sex and race/ethnicity. Those who reported greater general COVID-related stress were more likely to have nightmares about confinement, failure, helplessness, anxiety, war, separation, totalitarianism, sickness, death, COVID and an apocalypse. Those who reported worsened sleep were more likely to have nightmares about confinement, oppression, failure, helplessness, disaster, anxiety, evil forces, war, domestic abuse, separation, totalitarianism, sickness, death, COVID and an apocalypse. Those who reported worsened middle-of-the-night insomnia were more likely to have nightmares about confinement, oppression, failure, helplessness, disaster, anxiety, war, domestic abuse, separation, totalitarianism, sickness, death, COVID and an apocalypse. These results suggest that increased pandemic-related stress may induce negatively-toned dreams of specific themes. Future investigation might determine whether (and when) this symptom indicates an emotion regulation mechanism at play, or the failure of such a mechanism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13439
JournalJournal of Sleep Research
Volume31
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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