Don’t Be Surprised If You Start Dreaming About Bugs

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Personally, I cannot stop dreaming about college (that I decide to reattend as a woman in my mid-30s) and parties (which I wasn’t a big fan of before they were forbidden to me), but what feels universal is their vividness: mid-pandemic, friends and friends of friends have reported more detailed, lifelike dreams than usual. In some cases, these dreams can provide a momentary escape, or even help us practice a new skill, but in others, they’re only adding to stress and discomfort. More specifically: A whole lotta people are dreaming about bugs.

In an interview with The Harvard Gazette, Deirdre Barrett, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem Solving — and How You Can Too, shares some of the results from an online survey she’s conducting about pandemic dreams. In addition to the probably expected influx in dreams about getting sick, Barrett says, “I’ve just seen dozens and dozens and dozens of every kind of bug imaginable attacking the dreamer: There are swarms of every kind of flying insect you’ve ever heard of; there are armies of cockroaches racing at the dreamer; there are masses of wriggling worms; there were some grasshoppers with vampire fangs; there are bedbugs, stink bugs.”

This is horrible, and now I’m worried that I’ll have these dreams tonight having read about them today. If you do, says Barrett, don’t be surprised — our association between the words bug and virus is likely a factor here. It’s a little bit of heavy-handed symbolism, straight from the subconscious; even if you feel relatively calm during the day (jealous!), your prefrontal cortex might save some of your pessimism and fear for your dreams. “The idea of lots of little things that cumulatively can hurt or kill you is really a very good metaphor for the virus particles,” she explains.

Barrett says she’s also seen an uptick in dreams about natural and human-made disasters: tornadoes, earthquakes, mass shootings, you name it. Barrett explains that our brains seek defining visuals, which we don’t really have for COVID-19 yet. As a result, we might just pick something else to stand in. Wonderful.

If you’d like to share your own pandemic dreams with a receptive audience, you can fill out Barrett’s survey here.

Don’t Be Surprised If You Start Dreaming About Bugs