French super chef Philippe Etchebest was simply describing reality when he called coronavirus a "national nightmare" in a recent article published by La Croix. He was referring specifically to France's shutdown restaurant owners and workers, but the metaphor can also describe the collective, surreal sense of uncertainty and fear currently permeating the world's subconscious like a bad dream come true.
Yet to call this global pandemic a nightmare isn't merely figurative. Quartz reports that Google searches for "coronavirus dreams" have shot up in the past weeks, and Le Monde invited Marc Rey, the president of France's National Institute of Sleep and Vigilance to answer readers' questions about troubled slumber. Yes, people all over the world are reporting increased nightmares as life under COVID-19 continues.
Of course, it is hardly surprising that the heightened anxiety of quarantine, health worries and a deeply uncertain future are having a serious impact on our slumber. Stress not only causes more nightmares, but more nightime wake ups — which means we're remembering more of our dreams. The continuing shutdown and social isolation multiply the effects, according to Courtney Bolstad, a sleep researcher interviewed by Time magazine: "Social rhythm theory says that the rhythms we have during the day, what time we get up, whether we see our friends, can influence our circadian rhythm," she explained. "If you aren't doing the things you typically do during the day, that could mess with your circadian rhythm which could mess with your sleep."
This doesn't necessarily mean that we'll be tossing and turning for months to come. "We're confined. It's violent. But confinement situations exist independantly of the epidemic," Marc Rey reminded Le Monde's readers. "In monastaries, in submarines, in space stations … If others can adapt to this confinement situation, we should be able to as well." Keeping a regular schedule, doing gentle exercise, practicing breathing techniques — there are many habits we can learn to regain a more peaceful rest. And it's in our best interest, as not only does sleep boost the immune system, it can alleviate stress and trauma.
So let's all do our best to dream of brighter days to come, and maybe even a night out at a Philippe Etchebest Michelin-star restaurant.
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