Dream-disturbed Sleep during the Pandemic: Can Light Therapy Help?

Since the start of the pandemic, many people have reported experiencing strange and vivid dreams, related to wearing masks, seeing bugs in dreams, or dreaming of other anxieties from daily living such as testing positive for COVID-197.

Researchers have coined a new term — coronavirus pandemic dreams — to describe the surge of strange dreams a lot of people are experiencing7. People who are the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic such as health care workers or those living close to big cities are even more prone to experience outbreak-related dreams7.

The coronavirus pandemic dreams may be a consequence of the unusual environment created with the pandemic — staying at home, experiencing isolation, and going through stress7,6 are all challenges that influence our sleeping patterns and the content of our dreams.

What are Scientific Studies Saying?

A study at the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France which was launched in the month of March has reported that the coronavirus pandemic caused a 35% jump in dream recall among participants. According to National Geographic which reports on this study, respondents also reported 15% more negative dreams than usual7. Now that people are remembering their negative dreams more often, researchers are better able to analyze what those dreams are about.

Another study run by Italian researchers analyzed the dreams of Italians who were confined to their homes during the outbreak7.

According to the Italian study, an increasing number of correspondents reported:

  • Nightmares7
  • Parasomnias, which are sleep-disturbing disorders that may include sleep terror such as sudden walking, sleepwalking, sleeptalking or sleep paralysis7,4
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder 7.

The findings from both France and Italy, which were two of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 in Europe, had similar results to earlier studies that explored sleep disturbances after natural calamities. For instance, when Italian researchers investigated the impact of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009, they found out that earthquake survivors closer to the epicenter reported an increase in sleep disorders and nightmares6.

Even two years after the earthquake those who were closest to the epicenter in L’Aquila still reported disturbed sleep and still suffered from trauma6. This could mean that the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our sleep could be long-lasting. Since sleep is important for health, treating these long term effects is essential.

Overcoming the Nightmares

Science has long suggested that dream content and daytime emotions are connected, and the types of dreams we have, relate to our general wellbeing8. While there are a lot of things that we still don’t understand about dreaming, REM-sleep or the phase of sleeping where most dreams occur, helps us process traumatic events from our waking life and offer some emotional healing after we wake up8,1.

Under extraordinary circumstances, one must find ways to create positive daily experiences to achieve a “positive dream effect” where dreamers would feel good about what is happening in their dreams. Peace of mind is backed by Finnish researchers as a nod to positive dreaming5. However, peace of mind is sometimes difficult to achieve so it’s worth considering asking for help from a health professional.

Evidence: Can Light Therapy Help?

There is growing evidence that Light Therapy can help improve sleep and quality of sleep. Whether your sleep is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or other traumatic events you might have experienced in your life, Light Technology can help you sleep like a baby, without causing any unwanted side effects9,10,2,3.

Here’s what some of the research has found out:

In 2012, Light Therapy was found to be an effective nonpharmacologic and non-invasive therapy for treating sleep disorders and improving the quality of sleep among elite female basketball players. Each participant within the research received 14-30 minute Light Therapy sessions once every night for 14 nights in a row10.

The same research also measured improved serum melatonin levels among the basketball players, a hormone that promotes sleep within the human body10,11, and in return, players experienced improved endurance performance10.

The positive effects of Light Therapy on sleep have been recorded in later studies as well.

In 2013, a Taiwanese study looked at participants and their electroencephalography (EEG), or electrical brain activity before, during, and after Light Therapy simulation. Their research suggested that Light Therapy can be beneficial in helping people with sleeping disorders fall asleep easier9.

In 2014, a study on the cognitive function of people with traumatic brain injury discovered that Light Therapy helped these people improve their cognitive function and decrease episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, participants also reported better sleep3.

Lastly, in 2018, Brazilian researchers discovered that Light Therapy also helps improve the sleep of people who suffer from migraine headaches. Patients who were submitted to the research experienced both improved sleep and fewer headaches following the use of Light Therapy2.

A growing body of evidence suggests that Light Therapy can help us improve our ability to fall asleep, remain asleep, and get quality sleep. In times when our dreams and sleep are invaded by negative feelings related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Light Therapy can help us ease our daily stressors and might help us avoid sleep-disturbing dreams.

Reach out to our team

We are here to help you and answer any of your questions in case you are struggling with dream-disturbed sleep, either due to the current pandemic outbreak or other traumatic events you may have experienced in your life and that affected your sleep.

Message us on Facebook or Twitter or call for an appointment at our premises in Evergreen, CO to experience the soothing effects of Light Therapy first-hand. Light Therapy can be applied for various health conditions you may be experiencing. Follow our blog to stay up-to-date and learn how light technology can help you improve your health and the health of your family, especially during these difficult times.

  1. Leonard, J. (n.d.). REM sleep: Definition, functions, the effects of alcohol, and disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2020, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247927
  2. Loeb, L. M., Amorim, R. P., Mazzacoratti, M. D., Scorza, F. A., & Peres, M. F. (2018). Botulinum toxin a (BT-A) versus low-level laser therapy (LLLT) in chronic migraine treatment: A comparison. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria, 76(10), 663-667. doi:10.1590/0004-282x20180109
  3. Naeser, M. A., Zafonte, R., Krengel, M. H., Martin, P. I., Frazier, J., Hamblin, M. R., … Baker, E. H. (2014). Significant improvements in cognitive performance post-transcranial, red/near-infrared light-emitting diode treatments in chronic, mild traumatic brain injury: Open-protocol study. Journal of Neurotrauma, 31(11), 1008-1017. doi:10.1089/neu.2013.3244
  4. Parasomnias. (2005, April 27). WebMD. Retrieved June 19, 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/parasomnias
  5. Sikka, P., Pesonen, H., & Revonsuo, A. (2018). Peace of mind and anxiety in the waking state are related to the affective content of dreams. Scientific Reports, 8(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-018-30721-1
  6. Tempesta, D., Curcio, G., Gennaro, L. D., & Ferrara, M. (2013). Long-Term Impact of Earthquakes on Sleep Quality. PLoS ONE, 8(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055936
  7. The pandemic is giving people vivid, unusual dreams. Here’s why. (2020, April 15). Retrieved June 19, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-pandemic-is-giving-people-vivid-unusual-dreams-here-is-why/
  8. Walker, M., (n.d.). Why your brain needs to dream. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2020, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_your_brain_needs_to_dream
  9. Wu, J., & Chang, Y. (2013). Effect of low-level laser stimulation on EEG power in normal subjects with closed eyes. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2013/476565
  10. Zhao, J., Tian, Y., Nie, J., Xu, J., & Liu, D. (2012). Red Light and the Sleep Quality and Endurance Performance of Chinese Female Basketball Players. Journal of Athletic Training, 47(6), 673-678. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.6.08
  11. Zisapel, N. (2018). New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. British Journal of Pharmacology, 175(16), 3190-3199. doi:10.1111/bph.14116

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