The Real Reason You're Dreaming About Bugs During The Pandemic

If you've been having exceptionally weird dreams lately, join the club. Because while the pandemic is giving us all a chance to work from home and, as a result, recharge our batteries — it's also fueling our subconscious in a way we probably didn't expect.

Sheltering in place means most Americans are getting more sleep — around 20 percent more, says WebMD, but that isn't exactly translating into more rest, because many people are reporting nightmares specific to COVID-19. On top of that list: bug attacks that include insect swarms and armies of worms and roaches.

A Harvard researcher peeked into the world's worst pandemic nightmares in a study involving more than 8,000 dreams reported from across the globe. So what is behind our creepy, crawly dreams? "I think part of it traces to the slang use of the word; we say we have a bug to mean we have a virus. Dreams can be kind of pun-like in using visual images for words," psychologist Deirdre Barrett says.

Bug dreams are truly nightmarish

Vivid, unsettling dreams are our new norm, according to the results of the survey. Barrett, who is also editor-in-chief of Dreaming: The Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams tells CNET that in one dream submitted through the survey (which can be found here), weird insects like centipedes had been sent into the dreamer's room. The dreamer also said that "it was a game to try to find the bugs but we could only find one single bug of many, so I was terrified to sleep until the other bugs were found."

Of course, bugs aren't the only theme pervading our thoughts when we drift off to sleep (zombies have been commonly reported as well). The dreams are far more traumatic for frontline healthcare workers, "who are dreaming about unsuccessfully intubating dying patients. Their dreams are much more literal and much more nightmarish," Barrett says.

How to try and rid your sleep of bad (bug) dreams

If your dreams have been keeping you awake, it may make you feel better to know that you're not going through this alone. "When we dream, our brain is working through all of those memories and that content and information. So it's not a surprise that we're experiencing these dreams that are filled with all kinds of things we wouldn't normally dream about," psychologist Wendy Dickinson tells CBS.

Dickinson compares our subconscious minds to hall closets, the contents of which we haven't processed because we haven't had the time, or because they could be too upsetting. Our dreams give our minds a chance to unpack everything we might have stored inside. But if we give ourselves a chance to think about all the information we get during the day, we might give our subconscious minds less to dream about: "What happened during the day? What did I notice? How am I feeling? It helps to be able to unlock some of that so that you don't have so much stored up going into your dream state."