HEARING about other people’s dreams is one of the great bores of early morning conversation, but I feel a need to share a recent one of mine.

The other night I had a very vivid dream about Nicola Sturgeon.

I suspect it’s my own fault for watching the news just before bed. But it wasn’t a nightmare at all.

The first minister of Scotland I were in an agreeable pub in Edinburgh in some mask-free future, talking.

And it wasn’t the usual journalist-to-politician interview. It was just amiable chat about books, music and films, and it turned out we had a lot of tastes in common. When I woke up, I almost missed her.

I lived in Dumfries 25 years ago and was always impressed by the number or articulate, well-educated Scots of my own age who would talk quite seriously and knowledgeably about politics, the imminent general election, the pros and cons of independence and so on. Ms Sturgeon has always reminded me strongly of them.

But I never remember dreaming about a politician before. And if I dream about woman, it’s not usually while asleep, not usually part of a night dream.

Vivid and peculiar dreams are on the rise at the moment and, like so much else, it’s a side effect of coronavirus.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have found that sleep loss caused by worrying has increased from affecting one in six of us to one in four.

Another team of researchers, in Finland, found that 55 per cent of bad dreams these days were related to Covid-19.

There’s a fairly straightforward explanation. A lot of us are sleeping longer.

Dreaming occurs during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, the one we spend around a quarter of our sleeping hours in.

But working from home has changed our morning routines. We don’t have to wake up as early to travel to work or to school, so many of us spend longer in bed – and get more REM time.

It’s not necessarily fear of illness that gives us bad dreams. The increased stresses of being cooped up at home, possibly having to juggle child care with work, and the pressure that relationships have come under, all ensure that many of these extra dreams aren’t sweet ones.

Dreams have always intrigued people. The ancients often saw them as messages from the gods, or God.

In 1900, Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams, which at the time was highly influential. He reckoned that the images in our dreams were symbolic, reflecting our unconscious thoughts.

Nowadays, some see them merely as a way of keeping the mind ticking over, like a computer screen saver, making sure that our brains don’t switch off completely when not in use.

Of course, there must be external influences on them sometimes. My second ever visit to Cumbria was when I was 11, on a Scout camp near Coniston.

I dreamt I was at the dentist and a bossy receptionist kept bleating in a whiny voice: ‘Next…next…next.’

When I awoke there was a sheep outside the tent, bleating whinily as if complaining about the weather.

Children are often plagued by recurring unpleasant dreams. They tend to start when between the ages of three and six and we usually grow out of them around the age of 10.

After that, nightmares can recur in a different way. They can revisit particular scenarios, but won’t necessarily follow the same “plot”.

Stressful situations like a divorce, the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job can trigger them, but the causes can also be lesser sources of worry, depending on your own experiences.

One of the most common triggers are exams. I used to have a recurring nightmare about having to do finals again, and it can still revisit my REM hours from time to time. I’m never more relieved than when I wake up from that one.

The advice for reducing stress and preventing unpleasant dreams is all fairly familiar. A long relaxing bath, the avoidance of any technology liable to energise our brains, and not watching the news immediately before bed are all recommended.

However, when people talk about dreams they don’t often mean the ones we have asleep.

We hear of “hopes and dreams” or Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality.

But to my mind, “keeping the dream alive” means hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock.

If you want to “follow your dream”, go back to sleep for a bit longer.