Sleep Science Friday: Sleeping and Dreaming in COVID-19


9 April 2021

Sleeping and Dreaming in COVID-19

Following the Sleep Webinar on COVID-19 (here’s the report in case you missed it), today’s guest Professor Brigitte Holzinger (the Director of the Institute for Consciousness and Dream Research and Founding Member of the Austrian Sleep Research Association) is sharing some more discoveries about COVID-19 pandemic effects on sleep.  


Here are the findings on sleeping and dreamimg in COVID-19.

Prof. Holzinger and her team have observed the evolution of sleep disorders throughout the pandemic in Austria. They began their online survey as early as the beginning of April 2020 and they were rather surprised to find that Austrians slept better after the first lockdown due to the changed work schedules. Daytime sleepiness was significantly lower during the lockdown period although sleep duration did not change, which demonstrates that home office is good for sleep if people keep regular sleep schedules. This survey was live until mid-May 2020, during the first lockdown. However, the situation changed dramatically several months later.   

As a part of the international initiative ICOSS (the International COVID-19 Sleep Study) which had been conducted in Austria, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Sweden, UK and USA by the end of June 2020, Prof. Holzinger conducted a second online survey in June 2020 and found a significant worsening of sleep quality and higher prevalence of sleep problems in Austrians.  The researchers are convinced that the main reason for this worsening is the difficulty of the current financial situation, including job instability, resulting in higher anxiety and depressive disorders. Those affected by COVID-19 seem to have poor sleep in the first days after symptom onset which might be related to increased anxiety, but can also be a direct viral effect. After the first several days, those woith mild forms of COVID-19 tend to sleep longer. However, there is currently not enough data on more severe cases to draw any definitive conclusions.  

Dream recall and nightmare frequency have increased during the pandemic which might be associated with longer times spent in bed as well as to virus-related fears and anxiety. Prof. Holzinger shares personal observations about changes in dreams and dream content during the pandemic. The latter strongly correlates with linguistic features and can explain population differences in dream content.  

Currently, one additional questionnaire is being developed, which will be released in 2021 and will provide more information on the evolution of sleep disorders during third wave of the lockdown.


Watch the entire interview with Prof. Holzinger for more insights into sleeping and dreaming in COVID-19.


Selected papers published by Prof. Holzinger et al.: 

  1. Holzinger et al. (2021). COVID-19 lockdownAre Austrians finally able to compensate their sleep debt? Sleep Med.  
  2. Holzinger et al. (2020). The Dreamland: Validation of a Structured Dream Diary. Front Psychol. 
  3. Holzinger et al. (2020). Cognitions in Sleep: Lucid Dreaming as an Intervention for Nightmares in Patients With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Front Psychol. 
  4. Partinen et al. (2021). Sleep and circadian problems during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: the International COVID-19 Sleep Study (ICOSS). J Sleep Res.  
  5. Altena et al. (2020). Dealing with sleep problems during home confinement due to the COVID-19 outbreak: Practical recommendations from a task force of the European CBT-I Academy. J Sleep Res. 


Recent publications from ESRS members: 

  1. van Egmond et al. (2021). Association between pet ownership and sleep in the Swedish CArdioPulmonary bioImage Study (SCAPIS). Sci Rep. 
  2. Bar et al. (2021). From sleep medicine to medicine during sleep – a clinical perspective. Physiol Meas.   
  3. Cerri & Amici (2021). Thermoregulation and Sleep: Functional Interaction and Central Nervous Control. Compr Physiol. 
  4. Bruni et al. (2021). The impact of lockdown on sleep patterns of children and adolescents with ADHD. Clin Sleep Med.   
  5. Merikanto et al. (2021). Genetic variants for morningness in relation to habitual sleep-wake behavior and diurnal preference in a population-based sample of 17,243 adults. Sleep Med. 
  6. Mutti et al. (2021). Intra period CAP kinetics to stressful perturbation: a message from obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep Med.   
  7. Åkerstedt et al. (2021). Sleep duration and mortality  Influence of age and occupational group in retired individuals. Sleep Med.   
  8. Santoso et al. (2021). Sleep quality trajectories from head and neck cancer diagnosis to six months after treatment. Oral Oncol.  

Just published an article? Want your research to be featured? Saw something interesting? Contact us at ESRS 


Upcoming Events

Virtual Sleep and Breathing 2021 

Sleep and Breathing Virtual is taking place in just one week: April 16-17, 2021! Have you registered?

Get ready for 2 days packed with a variety of hot topic symposia, case based discussions, skills labs, debates and more! Check out the line up here: Sleep and Breathing 2021 – Virtual – Programme (ersnet.org) 

Sleep School 2021 

It’s not too early to register for the 3rd ESRS Sleep Science School on the topic “The Functions of Sleep”!

Are you as excited as we are? It will be held 26 September – 1 October, 2021at the CNRS Villa Clythia site in the city of Frejus at the Mediterranean Sea (South France). Here’s more information on who can apply and how to apply. There are limited places for participation, so don’t delay!


Want to see what else is coming up? Check out our Events Calendar for even more events! 


ESRS Reminders 

The Sleep Medicine Committee (SMC) has extended its deadline for its Call for New Effective Members until 30 April 2021. 

There are several projects that require effective members – We Need You! To get further information or to apply if you’re already interested, please see more details here.