Why Your Hands or Arms Fall Asleep at Night and What To Do

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Hands / Arms Falling Asleep at Night
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Waking up but realizing that your hand or arm has fallen asleep is usually nothing more than an annoying experience. The most common reason why your hands and arms fall asleep while you’re sleeping is pressure on a nerve in your arm. However, there are different reasons causing this pressure that results in one or both of your arms or hands to be numb when you wake up.

Pressure on a nerve causing a limb to become numb is medically called paresthesia. Usually, the feeling comes back to your arm or hand when the pressure is released. Of course, you don’t always lose complete sensation when your hands or arms fall asleep. You can sometimes have “pins and needles”, a tingling sensation, itching, or even burning in the hand or arm that falls “asleep.”

Although paresthesia is a harmless condition, some people regularly lose feeling in their hands or arms. This can be a sign of nerve damage in the affected limb or symptom of another medical condition. If you find that your hand or arm doesn’t “wake up” or you frequently experience numbness in your hands or arms, you should have a doctor examine you.

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What Causes Hands or Arms to Fall Asleep

There are 3 main nerves that run from your neck, go under your collarbone down and reach the end of your fingers – the ulnar nerve, the radial nerve, and the median nerve. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke says that sustained pressure on a nerve causes paresthesia. This results in tingling or numbness in the affected arm, an itchy sensation, or a feeling of skin crawling in the area below where the nerve has been pressed.1

Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD says that the condition is not usually serious and when the pressure is gone, the feeling should go away.2

Dr. DerSarkissian explains that cases of chronic “pins and needles” in your arms or hands could be caused by a trapped nerve, an injury that has damaged a nerve, diabetes that has damaged nerves, or vitamin B12 deficiency.

Although pressure on a nerve can cause a limb to go numb at any time, what is the reason for your hands or arms falling asleep at night? Let’s look at the main causes.

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Reasons for Hands or Arms Falling Asleep at Night

If you wake up in the morning and you discover that your arms or hands have fallen asleep, you may find it difficult to move your arm, grip objects, or turn off the alarm clock. Here are the most common reasons for this.

Sleeping in the wrong position

Sleeping in the wrong position is one of the most common reasons for your hand or arms to fall asleep during the night. It can also cause your hands or fingers to become swollen. If your arm or hand is in a position where pressure is applied to a nerve for a length of time, it will gradually fall asleep.

Doctors at WebMD say that if you sleep with your arm crooked under your head you could wake up with tingling in your hands or arm.3

Other common sleeping positions that result in your arms falling asleep are:

  • sleeping on your back with one or both arms outstretched above your head
  • sleeping with a crooked hand
  • falling asleep with your arm under your body – this can also cause shoulder pain while sleeping.

Poor blood circulation could also cause tingling in your arms when you wake up. Sleeping on your arm may restrict the flow of blood to your arm and hand. This affects sensory data to your brain causing pins and needles in your arm.

Ulnar nerve entrapment

One of the main nerves in your arm is the ulnar nerve which runs from your neck to the tips of your fingers. Your hand or arm can lose feeling during the night if your ulnar nerve becomes trapped or compressed.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, your ulnar nerve can become compressed if you sleep with your elbow bent. They explain that this can compress the ulnar nerve and cause you to wake up at night with your hands or fingers asleep. The numbness commonly affects your ring finger and little finger.4

Conditions that can aggravate ulnar nerve entrapment and cause you to wake up frequently because your fingers or hand are still asleep are:

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  • A previous injury to your elbow.
  • Arthritis of the elbow.
  • Repetitive strain injury on your elbow joints.

To prevent your ulnar nerve becoming trapped while sleeping, orthopedic surgeons recommend keeping your elbow straight at night. You can wrap a towel loosely around your elbow and secure it with tape. This will help to prevent waking up with tingling in your hands and fingers.4

Saturday night palsy

Another reason for your arm falling asleep while you are sleeping is a condition termed “Saturday night palsy.” This happens when a person falls asleep against a firm object. The object compresses the radial nerve in the arm, resulting in waking up with your arm still asleep.

Many people say that the term “Saturday night palsy” comes from a person falling into a deep sleep on a chair after drinking too much alcohol.5 If this happens often or you are asleep for a long period of time with the nerve pressed against the armrest, it can result in long-term nerve damage in your arm.

Waking up with your arm asleep after drinking too much alcohol is a minor side effect compared to the damage that alcohol can do to your liver.

Honeymoon palsy

Someone else sleeping on your arm can put pressure on a nerve causing your arm to fall asleep at night. This has been called “honeymoon palsy.”

The website Orthopaedics One says that if someone falls asleep on your outstretched arm, this can put pressure on the radial nerve and affect the nerves and muscle function of your arm or hand.6 The result can be a complete loss of sensation in your hands or arm or a strong tingling sensation like pins and needles.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause your hands to fall asleep at night and make you wake up with numb hands. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when pressure on the median nerve in your wrist which results in numbness, tingling, and weakness in your hand.

Dr. Kathleen Romito on WebMD says that if you wake up with pins and needles in all of your fingers apart from your little finger, it could be a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome.7

According to a clinic specializing in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, its symptoms are more pronounced at night. The pressure on the nerve in your wrist can make you wake up with numb hands or tingling in your fingers. Sometimes, your sleeping position can aggravate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also lead to sleep loss because as your hand falls asleep, it wakes you up frequently.8

Dr. Romito recommends using an ice pack on your wrist to relieve the pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. For more recommendations on treating carpal tunnel syndrome naturally, please read my article on the causes and home remedies for forearm pain.

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Stroke

A reason for your arm or hand falling asleep at night could be because of having a stroke. A stroke is a life-threatening emergency that happens when there is a disruption in the flow of blood to your brain. This can cause paralysis, loss of consciousness, numbness on one side of the body, and impaired speech.

WebMD reported on a study showing that many people suffer strokes while they are sleeping. The journal Neurology found that around 14% of all strokes in the U.S. were “wake-up” strokes.9

Of course, waking up with an arm that is still asleep isn’t in itself a symptom of stroke. Also, the majority of strokes happen during the daytime. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that symptoms of a stroke (transient ischemic attack) are:12

  • Numbness or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg. This typically only affects one side of the body.
  • Slurred speech and difficulty understanding others.
  • Vision problems.
  • A sudden, severe headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting and dizziness.

There are other early warning signs of a stroke that are important to know about because early treatment is essential to making a recovery. Please also read my article on how to lower your risk of suffering a stroke to take practical steps to prevent a medical emergency.

Other Reasons for Tingling or Numbness in Hands or Arms

There are some other reasons for your arm falling asleep at other times, not just during the night. It’s important to be aware of these other conditions that cause tingling in your arms or hands because, if not treated properly, they can lead to permanent nerve damage and permanent loss of feeling in your hand or arm.

Vitamin B deficiency

Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy blood, nerves, and other body functions. Tingling or numbness in your hands is one of the signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency. The tingling is caused because your nerves start to become damaged and lose feeling because of a lack of vitamin B12.

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According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, if your body lacks vitamin B12, you could suffer from pernicious anemia – a decrease in red blood cells in your body. As well as causing “pins and needles” in your hands, it can make you feel very tired and short of breath. You may also experience frequent headaches.10

Diabetes

People with diabetes can also suffer nerve disorders that can cause permanent nerve damage. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that diabetes can cause pain, tingling, or numbness in the hands, arms, feet and legs. The risk of experiencing numbness in your limbs increases with age and the length of time you have had diabetes.

Apart from tingling in your hands and feet, some of the other early warning signs of diabetes are frequent urination and excessive thirst, a dry mouth, unexplained weight loss or gain, and wounds that don’t heal.

Other conditions causing “pins and needles” in your hands and feet

According to doctors at WebMD, some other conditions that can cause numbness or tingling in your hands and arms are:

  • Trapped nerve
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Taking certain medications

How to Wake Up Your Arm

If you have woken up but your arm or hand is still asleep, there are a few practical ways you can use to resolve this issue. Although the normal feeling will return in a few minutes, you can make your arm wake up quicker if you:

  • Remove whatever has been pressing on your arm.
  • Shake your hand and count to five to increase blood flow to your arm and hands.
  • Stretch your hands towards the ceiling and count to five.
  • Gently rock your head from side to side to loosen up the nerves in your neck
  • Raise and lower your shoulders to ease any tension in your neck that might be pressing on your nerves.

How to Prevent Your Hands and Arms Falling Asleep at Night

To prevent your hands and arms falling asleep at night, you can try some of the following tips:

  • Avoid sleeping on your arms.
  • Don’t sleep on your back with your arms outstretched above your head.
  • Try to not let your arm dangle over the side of the bed.
  • Exercise regularly to keep your blood circulation healthy.
  • Avoid repetitive jobs that could cause repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome.

When to See a Doctor about Numbness or Tingling in Your Hands or Arms

Usually, waking up after a night’s rest to find that you’ve lost feeling in one or your arms or hands isn’t a serious condition. However, there are some symptoms along with the tingling that are signs of a more serious condition.

The University of Maryland recommends seeing a doctor as soon as possible if you have numbness or pins and needles in your arms along with one or more of the following:11

  • You have weakness or loss of feeling in other parts of your body on the same side.
  • You have difficulty speaking or understanding others.
  • The numbness or tingling is the result of a head, neck, or back injury.
  • You have a rash.
  • You have lost consciousness, even if just for a brief moment.

Read my other related articles:
1. 14 Warning Signs of Poor Blood Circulation
2. How to Improve Blood Circulation Naturally
3. The Best and Worst Sleeping Positions for Your Health

Article Sources:
  1. NINDS NIH. Paresthesia.
  2. WebMD. Paresthesia facts.
  3. WebMD. Tingling in hands and feet.
  4. OrthoInfo. Ulnar nerve entrapment.
  5. Neurosurgery. 2002 Sep;51(3):737-41; discussion 741.
  6. OrthopaedicsOne. Compression and neuropathies of the arm.
  7. WebMD. Carpal tunnel syndrome
  8. MyCarpalTunnel. Sleep loss and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  9. WebMD. Many strokes occur in sleep.
  10. NHLBI NIH. Signs and symptoms of pernicious anemia
  11. UMM. Numbness and tingling.
  12. Mayo Clinic. Stroke
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2 Responses to Why Your Hands or Arms Fall Asleep at Night and What To Do

  1. aron says:

    thank you a lot a kept secrhing for hours to try to wake up a sleeping hand thank you

  2. Keith Trinity says:

    I have Parathesia when sleeping ONLY.
    It is NOT a positional problem as BOTH arms go numb no matter what position.
    I have “Trigger Finger” in my right ring finger. Seriously bad in the morning, gets better by bedtime.
    My blood pressure is unusually low when sleeping, 98/55 etc. (checks normal when awake).
    I am taking Buprenorphine for chronic back pain.
    Onset has been slow over the last year since starting Buprenorphine.
    I tried to switch back to Tramadol/Norco (that I had been taking for 20 years) but the Tramadol was NO longer effective and they REFUSE to prescribe enough Norco so I had to go back on Buprenorphine after two weeks (there was no change in Parathesia).

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