Trapped inside a house, stuck inside a vehicle that wouldn’t move, unable to complete seemingly simple tasks: this was the stuff that dreams were made on during lockdown, according to new research from University College London.
Analysis of more than 850 dreams and nightmares submitted online to the Lockdown Dreams Project between March 2020 and March 2021 shows people often dreamed about having frustrating and restrictive experiences in mundane, everyday settings, like the home, at the height of the pandemic.
Claustrophobic situations, such as finding yourself unable to leave your house due to a broken door handle, a lock or some kind of physical obstacle, were commonly reported early on in the pandemic. Many also dreamed about needing to stay indoors to escape a strange or uncanny scenario just outside their home.
In one notable example, a dreamer reported seeing dangerous bears in their back garden, which forced them to stay inside, where it was safe.
Overall, the study found that 71% of people reported having more vivid dreams during the first UK lockdown than before the pandemic.
“Early on, it was very much related to claustrophobia and feeling trapped,” said Jake Roberts, one of the researchers on the project. But as the pandemic wore on, dreams began to be filled with more bureaucracy and transport problems. Roberts said: “Dreamers would be trying to get from A to B by commuting or doing something they would do every day – and then, something quite uncanny would happen. Something wouldn’t work, the vehicle won’t go where they wanted it to or they would have to abandon it and go on foot. These were all common occurrences in the collection.”
For these dreamers, there was a sense that “you were no longer in control of where you were going, as a really good metaphor for the lack of freedom of movement”.
Covid was rarely represented directly in the dreams but symbolically appeared everywhere, Roberts said. He described a dream one person had reported in which they needed to “catch” a fish in order to acquire documentation that would allow the dreamer to get off the ship they were on. “It had a very allegorical quality.”
Family was also a huge part of people’s dreams, with many dreamers reporting a sense of the loss of loved ones, either real or imagined.
Sometimes people dreamed about seeing friends and family just outside their home and being unable physically to get to them. “But what became apparent as we went on is that people were referring back to childhood memories of being around people who had maybe passed away years ago.”
Roberts thinks perhaps dreamers who were experiencing the pain of being unable to see their loved ones were trying to process their feelings and simultaneously “seeking solace in a childhood idyll”.