Eduvation Blog

Mental Health, “Coronasomnia,” and Pandemic Dreams

Good morning! Can you believe we survived September?

Yesterday, Ontario reported 625 new COVID19 cases, and projections call for 1,000 a day in early October – but still the premier is refusing to discuss rolling back the reopening. And sadly, just in time for Orange Shirt Day, we heard yesterday that COVID19 cases are rising at an alarming rate in Indigenous communities across Canada. Unsurprisingly, Health Canada has approved the Abbott rapid COVID19 tests, a day after the government bought 8 million of them.

Also unsurprisingly, when researchers at Cornell U analyzed 38M articles about the pandemic, they found that President Trump was the single largest driver of the infodemic, making up 38% of the global “misinformation conversation.” And once again, web searches for “move to Canada” are spiking, prompted by Tuesday’s presidential debate.

From what I can tell, everyone is burning the candle at both ends, coping with incredible stress and some really challenging circumstances. Next week is mental illness awareness week, so I thought I would get a head start by sharing some stories I’ve been collecting over the past few months – as well as a brand-new episode of Ten with Ken in which I sit down with Benoit-Antoine Bacon to hear his personal story, and some powerful insights into student mental wellness.  

But first (sorry), some COVID updates…


COVID on Campus

Fewer and fewer CdnPSEs are reporting cases – mostly because they have stopped reporting, I think. But in the US, 2 college students have died of COVID19 in the past few days…

Appalachian State U reports a sophomore died this week of COVID19. CNN

Durham College has confirmed 1 case in an off-campus student. Durham

uHawaii West Oahu reports a student died Friday of COVID19. US News


CdnPSE Updates

Brandon U will continue with online learning for the Winter 2021 term, with a few exceptions. CTV

uFraser Valley announced yesterday that the Winter 2021 semester will continue to be delivered primarily online, “with opportunities for limited face-to-face instruction where deemed essential to achieving learning outcomes.” About 15% of Fall semester students currently have some F2F instructions.  UFV

uGuelph is deploying a COVID19 wastewater testing program on its campus, in what it says is a Canadian first. Sewage from 5 residence halls and 2,000 people will be sampled 3x a week. Globe & Mail

Providence UC reports steady enrolment this year, with a decline in international students offset by increased domestic students. 80% of undergrads are taking courses on campus, and the residences are operating at 50% capacity. Providence


The Echo Pandemic

Mental health (MH) has been a top priority for higher ed leaders for years now. Studies have found about 20% of students meet the criteria for a MH disorder, and up to 50% experience overwhelming stress, anxiety and depression. Obviously the COVID19 pandemic has exacerbated everyone’s anxiety about health, and has normalized obsessive hand hygiene. Lockdowns and PHO restrictions have increased economic uncertainty, disrupted learning environments and housing situations for many students, and intensified social isolation. Many specialists have expressed concerns about a looming MH “echo pandemic,” whose effects might significantly outlast the Coronavirus itself…

Campus MH Crisis Worsens

Rates of depression and suicide among US youth have soared in the past decade, but this year’s pandemic may be worsening the situation: in June, 26% of 18-to-24-year-olds contemplated self-harm, and 63% experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression. This generation of students is coming of age in a time of incredible uncertainty, and many are facing financial worries or a toxic home environment for remote learning. Closed campuses have deprived students of social interactions, in-person counselling, sports and other extracurriculars. Experts recommend self-care (sleep, exercise and nutrition), socially-distanced outdoor activities with friends and family, forming a “pod” of friends or housemates, clear and consistent daily routines, and avoiding the temptation to multitasking. Students should get familiar with the apps, peer supports and MH services on campus, and “if you feel like you’re losing control of your emotions or resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms, it may be time to see a professional.” Parents should provide a “listening ear,” and watch for warning signs like withdrawal, lack of motivation, mood swings, and changes in activities or grooming.  Huffington Post

“College students need to be more intentional about making sure that they get nutritious social connections — not just scrolling social media, but in-real-time conversations with friends and people they care about.”Laurie Santos, Prof of Psychology, Yale U


“Multitasking… is cognitively exhausting and can impact our mood. In fact, research shows that we feel better when we’re being mindful than we do when we’re mind-wandering to other tasks. Commit to single-tasking — put your phone far away if studying or watching lectures on a laptop, commit to a specific time period when you’re ‘at school’ versus doing other leisure activities or texting with friends.”Laurie Santos, Prof of Psychology, Yale U

To Sleep…

There are 3 key cornerstones to support mental health: nutrition, exercise, and (most underrated of all) sleep. Sleep deprivation has been rising on campus for years, and the pandemic has been worsening the issue…

Coronasomnia Pandemic

The pandemic has upset routines, imposed heightened stress, blurred the line between work and home, and in some ways between night and day. Shutdowns “cause people to lose track of days, weeks and time itself.” Social cues are also circadian cues. Bedtimes and wake times are increasingly delayed. Clinicians are reporting more patients with nightmares, night terrors, and sleepwalking. Experts fear that pandemic sleep deprivation, or “coronasomnia,” could have profound public health ramifications, creating more chronic insomniacs with anger issues, hypertension, depression and declines in productivity.  Prescriptions for sleep medications spiked 15% in March, but aren’t intended for long-term use: the best treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy, but it is also beneficial to prioritize exercise, avoid news media, and abstain from electronics for an hour before bed.  Washington Post

“Sleep is a sentinel, a sign that things are really wrong in our country and the world.”Orfeu Buxton, Sleep researcher, Pennsylvania State U


You are What You Drink

A daily coffee or cocktail habit could undermine your wellbeing: excess caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate anxiety and depression, particularly by impacting the quality of sleep. More than half of MH patients also report sleep problems, and insufficient sleep contributes to anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder. People who drink too much coffee during the day often increase alcohol intake in the evening, to relax and help them go to sleep – increasing depression symptoms and undermining the quality of sleep. During the pandemic, many Americans are facing unprecedented economic hardships and personal stresses, are cut off from friends and family, and are showing signs of clinical depression – yet through it all, liquor stores have remained open.  Discover

Perchance to Dream

In many ways, the anxiety dreams of college haunt us the rest of our lives: being late to an exam for a course we never took, forgetting our pants on the day of the big debate, etc. (I can’t be the only one!) But now, the COVID19 pandemic has injected anxiety about social distancing and infection into our dreamworlds – and changed the duration and quality of our dreams too…

Pandemic Anxiety Dreams

With the pandemic, sleep patterns changed abruptly for many people, with more insomnia reported among front-line workers and lazy mornings or afternoon naps for those under stay-at-home orders. In late March, Americans slept 20% more on average, particularly among commuters. Early birds became night owls, and sleeping-in created even more prime opportunities for REM sleep. Social media posts helped fuel and document a 37% surge in vivid, bizarre “lockdown dreams” and “COVID nightmares,” studied by academics, shared on Twitter, and collected on websites like Many of these dreams dwell on COVID diagnoses or cures, or substitute metaphorical threats like tsunamis, aliens, insects and zombies. Some patients and healthcare workers saw relentless suffering in the COVID wards, and suffered from horrific nightmares too. “These survivors will need expert help to regain normal sleep,” potentially through targeted memory reactivation or lucid dreaming practice.  Scientific American

“Because social distancing is, in effect, an experiment in social isolation at a level never before seen—and is likely antagonistic to human evolution—a clash with deep-rooted dream mechanisms should be evident on a massive scale.”Tore Nielsen, Prof of Psychiatry, uMontréal


Dreaming of Tuition Fees

Anthropology grad students at uToronto Mississauga analyzed the pandemic dreams of 85 UofT students, and found that anxiety, fear and confusion were widespread. About a third of the students recalled dreams specifically about COVID19, but one student dreamt “about a restaurant meal and receiving a bill for the same amount as their tuition fees.”  uToronto


Coping Strategies from Horror Films

I’ve never quite understood why people enjoy dystopian sci-fi or horror movies, but for those of you who do: apparently you are also likely coping better with this pandemic. (Maybe all those mental rehearsals of zombie attacks and alien invasions are paying off?) An April study of 310 Americans found that “people who engaged more frequently with frightening fictional phenomena, such as horror fans and the morbidly curious, displayed more robust psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The study controlled for gender, age, extroversion, and much else. (Note: if you’re not a horror fan, watching more will likely not help you cope with 2020.)  Personality & Individual Differences


Ten with Ken returns…

Benoit-Antoine Bacon

You may know that Benoit-Antoine Bacon, president of Carleton U, is one of the country’s most outspoken proponents of mental wellness, not just for students but for faculty and staff too. I sat down with him last fall and filmed a wonderful interview, which just can’t keep waiting for a return to pre-pandemic normal.

So finally, after a months-long hiatus, I’m pleased to share a new episode of Ten with Ken: “Speaking Out about Mental Health.” (Pardon the complete lack of social distancing; it was a different era!)


I’ll be back tomorrow with more on health and wellness. Meanwhile, get a good sleep!  Stay safe and be well…

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