Pain can negatively impact your quality of sleep. If you have ever had a leg cramp, or tried falling asleep when you had a backache, you know how impossible it can seem. Waking up with numbness in your fingers and hands may feel the same as waking up with pain.
This is known as neuropathy, and can be the result of vitamin deficiencies, uncontrolled diabetes, and other unnerving disorders. Many people can also experience occasional numbness/tingling of the hands upon waking due to laying on a part of their body and cutting off circulation to the arm. If you wake up with numbness and tingling periodically, it's normally not that big of a deal. However, if your symptoms greatly interfere with your ability to get a good night's sleep, then it may be time to see a doctor. Continue reading to learn more about numbness in your hands while sleeping.
Causes of numbness
Numbness in your arms or hands is a weird feeling that can happen due to a variety of causes. Your hands or arms might become numb, or feel like they've fallen asleep. Normally this happens because a nerve was compressed, or because the circulation was cut off by a sleeping position. Other times, the cause can be something deeper, and potentially, more serious.
If numbness is followed by a "pins and needles" sensation, then that can be referred to as paresthesia. Paresthesia can occur during sleep because of certain positions. Both paresthesia and numbness are associated with nerve compression and certain underlying health problems.
Nerve compression or damage
One common culprit of numb hands during sleep is damaged or compressed nerves. Nerves int he hands and arms can be damaged after repeated movements. If you have a job where you repeat certain hand motions, and experience numbness afterwards, this may be called "working hand syndrome". These individuals are more likely to experience numbness, pain, and tingling in their hands, especially at night.
Nerve damage that causes numbness and tingling in the hands can result from more than just working with your hands. Other people can experience these issues due to drugs, infections, genes, injury or inflammation.
Ulnar nerve compression
One condition is called ulnar nerve compression. The ulnar nerve is a lateral nerve in your arm that helps with the motion in your forearm, and also brings sensation to your pinky and your ring fingers. The nerve runs through the elbow, and is the one that is hit when you hit your "funny bone".
Putting pressure on your elbow or wrist could compress this nerve, thus, creating numb fingers when you wake up. If you feel numbness in your pinky finger, ring finger, or hand below the pinky and ring fingers, then you are potentially experiencing ulnar compression. Try sleeping in a different position, or consider surgery for a more severe compression.
Radial nerve compression
On the opposite side is a radial nerve compression. The radial nerve also helps with forearm movements, and provides sensation to your thumb, pointer, and middle finger. Putting pressure on your wrist, forearm and bicep can all cause radial nerve pinching, leading to numbness or pain. Sleeping on your wrist or forearm, or sleeping with your arm hanging over the back of a chair, could compress this nerve. For traveling purposes, if you would like to sleep on a plane or in a car, avoid using your forearms, or curling your wrists against a window to serve as a pillow for your head. All of these actions can cause radial nerve compression and numbness upon waking.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Last, but certainly not least, is carpal tunnel syndrome. This often affects office employees, and is the most common entrapment neuropathy. This disorder is a compression of the median nerve which travels down the center of the arm. The median nerve brings sensation to the index and middle finger. It can be compressed at both the elbow and the wrist, so it's important to be mindful of how you are putting pressure on those two joints at night.
Most people may associate carpel tunnel syndrome with computer work, any small, repetitive movement of the wrist can cause it. About 3% of individuals have carpal tunnel syndrome, and the disorder is most common in women. Some get better on their own, but others' continue to worsen. People with carpal tunnel syndrome wake in the middle of the night due to pain in their hands and wrists.
This can be relieved using a brace, or by stretching your hands and wrists. If your pain continues, it may be time to see a doctor and consider a procedure that releases the pocket that compresses your nerve.
Other medical causes of numbness
Compressed nerves aren't the only reason that you may awake with numbness in your hands. There are a couple of other conditions that can also cause pinched or compressed nerves, which are worth mentioning to your physician if you don't think your issue is just positional.
Cervical spondylosis is a chronic, degenerative disease that impacts the muscles, tendons, and bones of the neck. This condition is fairly common, and you may see it more often in older adults. Other symptoms include neck pain, stiffness, pain and numbness in the arms, shoulders and fingers.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a disorder that involves compression or irritation of blood vessels in the upper chest due to anatomical variation of the muscles in that region. Most cases of thoracic outlet syndrome are caused by whiplash injuries, most commonly seen in car accidents or neck trauma. Other times, it can be caused by repetitive motions, or by having an extra rib (very rare!).
The last, as mentioned earlier, is diabetes mellitus. Uncontrolled diabetes means high glucose values. This can eventually lead to damage to the nerves and blood vessels (especially in the kidney and eye).
Reducing numbness in hands when sleeping
Reducing the numbness in your hands depends on the cause. Sometimes, extra support in your pillows and bedding may be the trick. Invest in a mattress that is soft, but supportive so pressure points are less likely to develop in sensitive areas like the neck and shoulders. Supporting the neck is also very important, which is why it's vital to get a pillow that keeps your spine aligned.
Other tips you can try include wearing a wrist brace to bed, changing sleeping positions, avoid lying on your arm or having your partner lie on your arm, stretching before going to sleep, and rule out underlying causes with your physician. If the problem persists, then it may be time to talk with your doctor about surgery.
It's even more pertinent to talk to your doctor if your numbness interrupts your sleep, lasts into the day, is in other part of your body, causes muscle weakness, causes clumsiness, causes dizziness, or is persistent.
If your sleep is interrupted by numbness, then please click the orange button to take a free online sleep test and talk with one of our sleep health professionals.