Honestly, who needs the Cineplex when pandemic dreams are this epic? This week alone, I've run the gamut from thriller and crime to romance and full-blown fantasy. I've fallen off buildings. I've been chased by insects. I've been running for flights. I've been having affairs. And - a regular one, this - I sit down to Leaving Cert Maths, self-conscious to be in my 40s and still wearing my school uniform. All from the 'comfort' of my own bed.
I'm not the only one experiencing glorious Technicolor dreams and waking up utterly exhausted. Google searches for 'weird dreams' have reportedly doubled since this time last year. The coronavirus crisis has played havoc with our sleep for many reasons, from the late-night scrolling of bad news to broken, anxious sleep. With our sleep cycles all over the place, there's a reason we are remembering our dreams more.
"I have seen people reporting a lot of vivid dreams since lockdown, so it seems to be happening a lot more than we think," notes Motty Varghese, senior Respiratory and Sleep Physiologist in St James's Hospital, Dublin.
While most of us rarely remember our dreams usually, that we might be remembering them in more detail now has much to do with broken sleep patterns. Most people who claim they usually don't dream often do, they just can't remember them.
"Sleep has different stages, and each stage has its own function," he explains. "When we fall asleep we go into Stage 1, which is a light stage, of sleeping. We spend 5pc of our sleep time in this stage before we progress to Stage 2. There, our breathing and heart slow down, and muscles become more relaxed. Then, we go to Stage 3, also known as 'slow wave sleep', and that's the refreshing sleep. We spend about 20pc of the night in Stage 3. Then, you have REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which has a major role in memory formation and consolidation. Basically, if you're only sleeping four hours at a time, you're not getting enough of some these stages of sleep.
"Dreams happen in a state sleep of rapid eye movement (REM)," explains Varghese. "We process our emotions and memory formation takes place in this cycle.
"Our sleep patterns have changed recently - we have a degree of flexibility in the morning if we are working from home, meaning we wake up later in the morning," Varghese adds. "If you are getting up at 8am as opposed to 7am, you get an extra sleep cycle, meaning another opportunity to get another episode of dream, which might explain why we are dreaming more."
Naturally, what we experience during the daytime has plenty of influence on what happens at night-time, too.
"With the lockdown, we are quite focused on what's happening around us, and we are at home all the time," Varghese explains. "We have exposure through different media channels to news - more than we are used to. The news is not pleasant, and there is that information overload, creating fear, anxiety and stress. These emotions are processed at night-time, so it's safe to assume this will have an effect on what we are dreaming."
Of course, remembering dreams has the added effect of making us worry about exactly what we are dreaming. Paul Gill, a Dublin-based psychotherapist specialising in dream interpretation, posits that most people have more time to notice their dreams now that they are out of their usual daily routines.
"The subconscious mind that creates dreams is the emotional habitual part of the 'Id' - if your work or life has changed, your subconscious mind notices the difference and tries to interpret what is happening.
"The mind is always trying to process stuff with reference to previous experience," Gill adds. "I compare it to the sorting office, where postmen put letters in pigeonholes - the subconscious mind tries to do the same."
In the more common dreams, a key element is fear or anxiety. "I think we notice fear-based dreams more than other kinds, which makes sense," Gill asserts. "If someone says 'I love you', that's all very well, but if someone says, 'Your house is on fire', your mind will sit up and take notice."
Most people appear to have the exam dream that I have; turning up for an exam they haven't prepared for, or running late to an important Leaving Cert day.
"Often, people in the dream think, 'Wow, I'm back here doing an exam', and when you think about it, it's a common dream. Feeling ill-prepared for something is a common feeling right now. Sometimes, you might be second-guessing in your life, 'Have I done enough? Could I do things in a better way?' When you have that anxiety, it will bring you to the first major reference of the first big test you ever did."
Another common dream that people recall is their teeth falling out, for no reason: another anxiety dream, says Gill. "This has to do with insecurity," he explains. "When we have this dream, we often worry about how we are perceived in the world. It's also a reminder that we are only a short step away from other animals - we are worrying about how we will survive."
The other common dream that Gill's clients report is that of being chased. "If you're being chased by a witch, monster or animal, you are trying to run away from something. The situation you're running from could have something to do with the past. When something in the present happens, it can connect you to the past."
Being naked in public is another dream commonly reported by people.
"That's about being seen as you truly are," says Gill. "We wear clothes to portray certain aspects of ourselves. People also dream of wanting to go to the loo and not being able to close the door, and that's about trying to get rid of our baggage or issues. It can also mean that we are worried about what people think."
We may wake up confused, embarrassed or even a little bit fretful about our vivid dreams, but Gill notes that dreams are an interesting barometer of our true emotional selves.
"They're an honest report on your deeper self," he says. "Your mind is trying to take action, and a recurring dream is your mind telling you that message over and over again. Think of your dream world as a committee of people bringing this report to you, about you. It would be remiss to ignore that."
The big question remains: is there a way of stopping the dreaded Cineplex going on in our heads?
"It's really hard to say for sure," Varghese admits. "I think we should focus on getting a consistent quality of sleep if we can. That means, consistent bedtime and wake-time, even if that means waking up earlier than usual. If you are sleeping poorly one night, we can get an 'REM rebound' if you have been deprived of REM sleep. A consistent wake-time will ensure that our sleep stages are spread out evenly, and essentially we are getting good quality sleep each night. Other than that, it's about keeping good sleep habits."
This can mean taking some proactive measures, from sleeping in a darkened room and leaving devices outside of the bedroom to banning screen time for about two hours before bed.
The Definitive Book Of Dreams by Paul Gill is out now