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Intense 'Pandemic Dreams' Disrupt Nation's Sleep During Coronavirus Outbreak

(CBS Local) -- Americans stressed out by the coronavirus outbreak are finding out that sleep is not necessarily a time for relaxation or peace of mind.

Many people are taking to social media to comment on the phenomenon known as "pandemic dreams," sharing examples via hashtag #pandemicdreams.

They are reporting vivid, often strange and sometimes terrifying dreams involving fear of death, threats against loved ones and anxiety associated with self-quarantining.

Stay-at-home orders are forcing millions into isolation for weeks, store shelves are empty due to hoarding and employers are laying people off due to lack of customers.

Experts say the main function of dreams is to process emotions, which for many people have been more intense during the pandemic.

"The majority of dreams have anxiety as the main emotion," Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School's psychiatry department told The Cut.

Barrett, author of "The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Their Dreams for Creative Problem Solving — and How You Can Too," has been collecting coronavirus dreams in an online survey.

"Changing one's routine dramatically often leads to more dream recall," she says.

The "pandemic dreams" phenomenon is worrisome because lack of sleep has been linked to increased stress and weakening the body's immune system, making us more vulnerable to illnesses, including the coronavirus.

The Sleep Foundation is offering some "concrete steps" to help people sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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