What relationship gave you the strangest dreams

Why you have such strange dreams right now

I've never been particularly interested in dreams. But when the coronavirus came my nights became more intense than the days. At first I dreamed of anger: I sent my ex-boyfriend to Italy to repair water pipes, a friend berated me for it. The dream was so intense that the next day I tried to find my ex on the internet (we haven't been in contact for many years). One night later, my mother sold my parents' garden to a large publisher who built a high-rise on it. I yelled at her until I woke up. Then the dreams became more psychedelic and sad: As a warrior, I went with a sword through a fantasy world with black and red caves and large, wooden doors. My father, who died ten years ago, returned home and went to bed seriously ill.

I usually rarely remember dreams, but in the last few weeks they were often so vivid in the mornings that it took me quite a while to find my way back into reality. What was that strange ride my psyche was going through? And was it just me? I got curious and passed the question on to the KR community. "Do you dream differently than usual during the corona pandemic?" I asked and: "Do you remember your dreams more often now?" While I was waiting for the answers, there should be 200, I found signs all over the internet, how many people my question occupies at this time: They collect their dreams on Twitter, under hashtags such as # coronatraum and #coviddreams; there is also a website called idreamofcovid where people from Bangladesh to Denmark describe their corona dreams. Dream researchers: in France, Italy and the USA are now working on projects to scientifically investigate corona dreams.

A scientist and a psychotherapist helped me understand the corona dreams

After evaluating the survey, it was clear: Even the Krautreporter readers dream differently during the pandemic, and many also remember their dreams more often than usual. Harry not only dreams more intensely, but also wakes up occasionally and then returns to the same place back in his dream, "like Netflix". Christina now dreams more often in black and white, Irmgard's husband tells her that she recently started talking loudly in her sleep. Many have nightmares. "I dream more and more creepily, but very absurdly, so that I wake up in the morning and wonder what has to be going on in me that I dream something like this," writes Nina. "I've been wondering about this strange condition for three weeks, so it's interesting that you asked," says Steffen. About a fifth of the participants said they saw no change or even dreamed less.

You don't have to be enthusiastic about dream images to understand that this is about more than a few amusing anecdotes. They are a mirror of what humanity is going through right now. I tried to understand what patterns these dreams follow and what we can learn about ourselves from them, also for the time after Corona. I found out why Americans dream of insects more often, what is different about the dreams of doctors: Inside, and that Angela Merkel plays an important role in the dreams of many Europeans. To do this, I spoke to dream researcher Deirdre Barrett, who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is also currently collecting corona dreams. And with the psychotherapist Kurt Gemsemer, who says that for him, the dreams of his patients are what the X-ray image is for orthopedic surgeons.

That means nightmares of grasshoppers with vampire teeth

“I dream of horror visions of the future - for example, that I drive to a friend's house and have to take her baby with me because she was beaten by her boyfriend and can no longer look after her child. The dream went as far as registering for a passport, which I forged in a dream because I was afraid of being discovered. In another dream, our family is locked in our home forever. The neighbors don't survive. We plant vegetables in their homes. We burn the furniture, for fear of street thugs we are barricaded. "

- KR reader Corinna

Like Corinna, many are doing right now: A good third of my survey participants told me that they have often had nightmares recently. Deirdre Barrett tells me that even most of those she interviewed reported anxiety dreams. Which is also due to the fact that Barrett's question is slightly different from mine: In her survey, Barrett does not ask generally about changed dreams during this time, but specifically about dreams with a corona-related reference. (If you also want to take part: You can enter your dream here).

The question asked by Deirdre Barrett is: "How many dreams have you had related to the covid-19 coronavirus?", I.e., "How many dreams have you had related to the Covid-19 coronavirus?"

So Barrett does not, like me, generally ask whether people dream differently during this time, but whether they have specific corona dreams.

Sometimes the nightmares of my survey participants have a direct corona reference, but more often there are fearful situations in the most varied of forms: crowds in which panic breaks out, tests and situations that are completely overwhelming, like this one:

“I was supposed to drive a huge coach out of the ditch because no one else was there. I don't know if I would have made it, I woke up beforehand, ”writes an anonymous reader.

For some, insects crawl or fly through their dreams. Deirdre Barrett says the insect issue is huge in her poll. Their participants report on “swarms of beetles that fly towards them, cockroaches, grasshoppers with vampire teeth. Many also dream of catastrophic images: hurricanes, earthquakes, people shooting around indiscriminately on the street. "

There is a reason for the abundance of insects among Barrett's participants, which at first sounds banal: Barrett's survey is in English (half of the participants: live in the USA, 20 percent in Canada, the rest is spread all over the world ). In English you say: "I have a bug" when you are sick. But there is a deeper reason: "The virus is invisible," says Barrett. It has no form that we can be afraid of and that can invade our dreams. That is why we dream in metaphors. Barrett is reminiscent of attacks by the Aum sect with the nerve agent sarin on the subway in Tokyo in 1995. "Because the gas is also invisible, people then dreamed of all kinds of monsters that attacked." According to Barrett, the nightmare images of are very different Doctors and nurses who work with Covid 19 sufferers: "They dream of patients who are gasping for breath and dying of the virus because they see that in their work."

KR reader Jochen writes to me that he has had worse dreams since he saw pictures on the news of the mass removal of coffins in Italy.

The fact that we do not know how this pandemic will continue and that we have no medication that will definitely help against it, let alone vaccinations, puts our psyche under pressure. We drive on sight, into the unknown. "Dreams are used for processing," says the psychotherapist Gemsemer. "In this sense, nightmares are an indication that there is as yet no data material for a particular problem that could be used for a solution."

We dream that when there is no everyday life

“I wanted to go to the supermarket, but there was absolutely nothing. Empty space, no shelves, no people. There were only cash registers. And there were pistachios and bananas that I bought even though I don't like them. "

- KR reader Gaby

Many readers have dreams about their everyday life in which they have to reorient themselves. That makes sense: we're all currently learning a new way of living and interacting with other people. How do we greet each other? How do you talk with a mask on your face? Or, an actually banal question that has given me a headache recently: How do I arrange the handover of money with a person to whom I sell my mixer on Ebay classifieds?

From dream research it is clear that sleeping and dreaming are important for learning processes. When we are very busy learning, we sometimes dream more vividly and intensely. In this study, for which participants learned French intensively, the best advances were made by those who also dreamed in French. Rats also seem to learn in dreams: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the brains of rats showed the same activity in dreams as they did during the day when they were walking through a maze. The Finnish dream researcher Antti Revonsuo believes that dreams prepare us for risky and dangerous life situations by acting out them in dream reality. This is called threat simulation theory.

Some dreams show the breaking points in us

“I dream quite specifically of everyday situations in which people get too close to me or that I see groups that are too close together. When I dream that people get too close to me, I ask them to move away from me, which most of them don't. When I dream that groups are too close together and I point this out to them, there are negative reactions. "

- Anonymous

Not all corona dreams are really about the virus and its consequences. The pandemic can also be a backdrop against which the psyche is working on other issues (I'm pretty sure my brain didn't want to prepare me for a real situation in which my mother would have a skyscraper put in our garden).

"A situation like the current one can mobilize individual insecurities and fears, old stories are pushed up," says Gemsemer, "for example that one cannot delimit oneself or not say no." Gemsemer asks his patient: sometimes inside, a dream diary respectively. "For me, the dream descriptions are similar to what the X-ray image is for an orthopedic surgeon: they show the break point," he says. He can also use dreams to track healing processes if the dreams change over time. “Let's say someone dreams that they get into a car and don't know where it's going because someone else is driving. At a later point in time, he may dream that he is behind the wheel himself. ”Such positively developed dreams sometimes happen spontaneously, but psychologists and dream researchers also coach people specifically with methods such as Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT): The dreamers write while they are awake Nightmares positively and memorize them. The new dream overwrites the old one. That sounds simple, but it actually works. In the USA, even traumatized veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are treated in this way.

IRT can be learned and implemented with therapeutic support, but there are also instructions for self-help, here for example. Lucid dreams can also help against nightmares. Here is an article from us about it:

For KR reader Axel, who, according to his own statement, cannot hold a note while awake, old wounds and injuries suddenly turned into singing in a dream, "so that I could suddenly sing an aria."

Not all dreams are profound, but some are brilliant

"One night I dreamed that I was naming exotic fruit in my head and I knew all the names."

- KR reader Gaby

And then there are the dreams that don't seem to make any sense. Like my journey as a fantasy warrior through the world of caves. But it can be more colorful, in my most stupid dream to date I was Minnie Mouse.

No, I haven't seen any fantasy films lately, nor have I read Lord of the Rings. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have neither read novels nor watch series. News and non-fiction only (and one or the other cooking show:

Quirky content like this is one reason many dreams smile at them. But it is also down to scientists like the medicine Nobel laureate Francis Crick: In an article in Nature magazine in 1983, he wrote that in dreams the brain simply frees up memory space and therefore throws away superfluous information. The dream images are an effect of tidying up, nothing more.

This garbage disposal theory is very well known. What is less well known is that dreams have long been scientifically rehabilitated. Even if we don't know a lot about them yet. “When you ask what dreams are good for, it is like asking why you have thoughts when you are awake. Nobody would ask that question - or if they did, nobody would expect an answer in a sentence or two, ”says Barrett.

But not all dreams are important or full of encrypted messages. “A lot of dreams are not particularly profound or useful, nor are thoughts. If you were to look at your thoughts every ten minutes, there would be a whole lot of trivialities and repetitions. ”Like thoughts, dreams can also be brilliant: Barrett knows two architects who dream through houses for which they are currently planning when they are awake to draw. Dreaming, for example, they understand where to put windows so that the light falls into the house at a certain angle. There are also famous examples: Paul McCartney dreamed the tune of "Yesterday". And the chemist Friedrich August Kekulé, while taking a nap at his desk in the mid-19th century, dreamed of a snake that bit its own tail. When he woke up, he suddenly understood the structure of the benzene molecule, which researchers had racked their brains over for a long time: It is ring-shaped.

Angela Merkel is now a dream heroine

Perhaps the corona dreams that researchers are collecting will help us in a few years to better understand dreams and their functions. And also how dreams change in isolation and quarantine. In any case, they are contemporary documents, like the dreams of the Japanese: inside after the subway attacks in Tokyo, those of the Americans: inside after 9/11 or those of the Berliners from 1933 to 1939, whose dreams the journalist Charlotte Beradt collected in her book "The Third Reich of Dreams".

“I woke up drenched in sweat, with clenched teeth. Again, as in countless nights before, in a dream I had been chased from one place to the next and on and on - shot, tortured, scalped. But that night it occurred to me that I was probably not the only one among the thousands who had been condemned to such dreams by the dictatorship. What dominated my dreams, had to control theirs - breathless flight across fields, hiding on dizzying towers, crawling into graves, the SS men always on the heels. I started asking other people about their dreams. "

Charlotte Beradt wrote this in an introduction when a selection of these dreams first appeared in an American magazine in 1943.

Having never been interested in dreams, I am now full of admiration for this commonplace and strange phenomenon.

By the way: Many of the European participants in Barrett's survey, and by no means only the Germans, are dreaming of Angela Merkel these weeks. Almost always as a positive figure. What does this say about the mental state of Europeans in 2020?


Editing: Philipp Daum, final editing: Susan Mücke, picture editing: Martin Gommel