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Sleep is one of the ways that our bodies keep things in balance for our overall well-being. When someone isn’t sleeping well, it’s sometimes a sign that there are aspects of their wellness that are out of balance.

Today, the warning sign we are discussing is changes in sleep. As with other warning signs, this is a potential sign when it marks a shift from the usual pattern. If someone has chronic insomnia for example, that can be a risk factor for suicide, but it might not serve as an indication that someone is at imminent risk. We might also check to see if sudden changes in sleep are due to some prescription (or not prescribed) medication.

If the sudden changes in sleep habits did serve as a warning sign, then the follow-up could explore two dimensions of emotional disturbance: (1) restless insomnia or exhausted overly tired; (2) related to mind, body, and/or spirit.

If someone was restless and unable to sleep, then what was that experience like and what might it mean beyond the basic function of rest? Were they troubled about something? Was something causing anxiety or agitation? Were they feeling excessive guilt or remorse? Did they just lay there awake or were they tossing and turning?

If someone was sleeping much more than usual, or feeling over-tired, then what was that like ‘under the surface’ for them? What felt heaviest? What was most draining? What felt like ‘too much’?

Often, changes in sleep reflect underlying emotional changes that might come down to perceived threat (thus unable to sleep) or perceived burden (thus sleeping more).

Perhaps in the short term there could be a need to address the impact of sleep disturbance. In the long-term it might be useful to explore the emotional experience underpinning the changes in sleep, because those feelings were powerful enough to disrupt such a basic part of how we regulate our well-being.

I would love to learn from your experience too. What recovery insights have you encountered or discovered in working with clients who had been experiencing insomnia or excessive sleepiness?