Epidemic dreams: dreaming about health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sanja Scepanovic, Luca Maria Aiello, Deirdre Barrett , Daniele Quercia

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The continuity hypothesis of dreams suggests that the content of dreams is continuous with the dreamer's waking experiences. Given the unprecedented nature of the experiences during COVID-19, we studied the continuity hypothesis in the context of the pandemic. We implemented a deep-learning algorithm that can extract mentions of medical conditions from text and applied it to two datasets collected during the pandemic: 2888 dream reports (dreaming life experiences), and 57 milion tweets (waking life experiences) mentioning the pandemic. The health expressions common to both sets were typical COVID-19 symptoms (e.g. cough, fever and anxiety), suggesting that dreams reflected people's real-world experiences. The health expressions that distinguished the two sets reflected differences in thought processes: expressions in waking life reflected a linear and logical thought process and, as such, described realistic symptoms or related disorders (e.g. nasal pain, SARS, H1N1); those in dreaming life reflected a thought process closer to the visual and emotional spheres and, as such, described either conditions unrelated to the virus (e.g. maggots, deformities, snake bites), or conditions of surreal nature (e.g. teeth falling out, body crumbling into sand). Our results confirm that dream reports represent an understudied yet valuable source of people's health experiences in the real world.

Original languageEnglish
Article number211080
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022


  • dreams
  • COVID-19


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