As you are waking up after a night of restful slumber, you may discover that one or both of your hands is asleep. You won’t have the ability to grip anything (like your toothbrush). You may also experience tingling, pain, stiffness or coldness. All of these feelings may occur in fingers, hands or wrists. The tingling sensation may even affect your whole arm. This is certainly annoying, but it usually doesn’t last long. It’s not usually a sign of circulatory or neurological issues.
However, if you frequently experience your arms or hands falling asleep at night, you should speak with your physician, as this could be symptomatic of the entrapment of a nerve in your arm, or even something as serious as a stroke. Pay attention to any other symptoms you experience, so that your physician can help you determine the underlying cause.
What Causes your Arms or Hands to Fall Asleep?
Some of the explanations include:
- Entrapment of the Ulnar Nerve
Your ulnar nerve runs from your neck to your arm. When it becomes compressed, this can cause your arm and hand to become numb. If you have either elbow bent when you sleep, this adds pressure on the ulnar nerve, which worsens the entrapment of the nerve. Nerve entrapment may initially be caused by elbow swelling, bone spurs, fractures, cysts or arthritis.
- Improper Position for Sleep
If you sleep with your hand or arm underneath your body for any length of time, this exerts undue pressure on your arm and hand. This can upset normal circulation and the nerve pathways traveling to the hand or arm. Blood flow becomes restricted when your arteries become compressed, resulting in your nerves being unable to send the proper signals for movement to the brain. This nerve function disruption can lead to your arms or hands falling asleep at night.
- Cervical Spondylosis
As you age, your neck or cervical joint may degenerate. This leads to the protrusion or herniation of the disk between those joints. That compresses your nerve roots in the area. Your weakness and numbness in hands and arms is the result.
- Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
The ulnar nerve may become inflamed, giving you a numbness and tingling sensation in the palm and some fingers. If you have had a traumatic injury in your elbow joint or you’ve kept the elbow bent for a particularly long time, this can affect the nerves in your neck and hand/arm.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If you use your wrist and hand repetitively, (for example, working on a computer), you may inflame the median nerve, which is pressed on when the wrist and hand are overused. It runs through a thin tunnel in your wrist. The result of the inflammation is numbness and loss of sensation in your fingers. Other repetitive activities include tennis, painting, carpentry and piano playing.
Roughly one in seven strokes occurs when people are sleeping. This was reported by a Neurology journal study. When the flow of blood to your brain is disrupted, this results in a stroke. Tingling and numbness are usually felt on the limbs along one side of your body.
Other stroke symptoms include difficulty understanding people and speaking, headache and disorientation. One half of your face may sag, causing your smile to appear abnormal. If your arm and hand are asleep, and these other signs are present, you need to call 911.
Other Causes of Arms or Hands Falling Asleep at Night include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Low body temperature
- HIV or AIDS
- Raynaud’s disease
- A deficiency in vitamin B12
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Injury to the spinal cord
- Enlarged blood vessels
- Neck injuries
- Broken shoulder blade
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Ganglion cysts
- Lyme disease
- Side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy
Treatments for and Prevention of Arms or Hands Falling Asleep at Night
- Try to move while you sleep, and don’t place your hand or arm under another body part. Allow your arm to rest just on the bed.
- Take frequent breaks when you’re doing repetitive movement work like hammering, knitting or working on a computer. Rotate your wrists and shoulders occasionally.
- Begin an exercise program. Swim, jog or even walk every day, to increase circulation and reduce the chances that your arms or hands will fall asleep.
- Take injections and medications as they were prescribed by your physician. Pain and numbness may occur at the same time, but anti-inflammatory medications can help to relieve that pain.
If you are suffering from continuous severe pain, you may have corticosteroid injections administered for pain relief and to improve your mobility. Problems with blood circulation caused by small clots in blood vessels can be treated using medications that dissolve the clots. Drugs that reduce the constriction of the blood vessels are also sometimes prescribed.
Stopping work to massage your hands regularly improves tingling and pain, by increasing the flow of blood to the hands.
- Use cold and hot water alternately. Immerse your hand and arm in cold or hot water or wrap it with a cold or hot towel. This relieves that tingling sensation by increasing blood circulation.
- Manage your stress. Stress can lead to rapid breathing, and that can aggravate existing symptoms. Consult your physician to properly diagnose the problem and get the right treatment, to help handle your arms or hands falling asleep at night.
- Treat causes for tingling arms and hands. Some causes include pinched nerves or peripheral neuropathy. The treatment might include using anti-seizure drugs, pain relievers or anti-depressants.
If you’re a diabetic, maintain your blood sugar at the proper levels. This includes eating a healthy diet and using medication as needed. If you have a severely pinched nerve, surgery will help in relieving the pressure.