Hands Going Numb When Sleeping? Here’s How to Fix It

(Last Updated On: September 8, 2018)

Waking up with numb hands can be worrying and cause you to wonder if you’ve got something seriously wrong with you. It’s also annoying because your sleep is regularly disturbed, and it can be painful. Those first seconds as the blood flow returns to your jelly-like fingers can really pack a painful punch.

Let’s get the good news out upfront. Hands going numb while you’re sleeping is a widespread occurrence, and it’s usually nothing serious. So, wipe that worried frown off your face and relax as we look at the reasons why hands can go numb while you’re asleep, what you can do to prevent it happening and the best way to get the blood flowing if it does happen again.

For many people, the numbness is confined to one hand, but it can extend to both hands, and the numbness and tingling can affect the arms too. Now, I know that I told you not to worry, but it would be irresponsible of me not to mention this possible cause of hand numbness right away because sometimes minutes matter.

A Stroke Can Cause Numb Hands

Don’t panic. I know that stroke sounds scary, and when you’re surfing the net in the wee small hours trying to get to the bottom of a health issue that has just cropped up, it’s easy to be convinced that you’ve got a life-threatening problem. So, let me reassure you, most instances of sleep induced hand numbness are not strokes. If a minor stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack) is to blame, then there will usually be other symptoms.

According to a study published in the Neurology journal, around one in seven strokes occurs overnight while a patient is asleep. All strokes are caused by a disruption of the blood flow to the brain and symptoms for minor and major stroke are the same, but with a minor stroke, the symptoms can last just a few minutes. These include any one or combination of the following:

  •    Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
  •    Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding a conversation
  •    Disorientation
  •    Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  •    Dizziness, loss of balance, or sudden trouble walking
  •    A severe headache with no apparent cause

If your hand and/or arm are numb, without any obvious reason like sleeping in an awkward position, or if any of the other symptoms are present, then you could be having a stroke and should call for emergency medical help right away. Even a minor stroke with short-lived symptoms is a medical emergency.

Awkward Sleep Positions Can Cause Your Hands To Fall Asleep At Night

Awkward Sleep Positions Can Cause Your Hands To Fall Asleep At Night

You may find that the cause of your numb hands is your sleeping position. When you’re asleep in the same position for a long time, your body can exert pressure on your arms and your hands, which disrupts circulation and nerve impulses.

When your circulation is affected, blood flow is restricted because your arteries are compressed, and your hands go numb, this is known as hand ischemia. As soon as blood flow is restored, the numbness will go away.

If it’s your nerves being affected, then this is called a pressure palsy, and it’s just a temporary impairment of the function of the peripheral nerves. Once the pressure is relieved, the feeling will return to your hands.

The tingling and uncomfortable numbness that wakes you up is actually a protective mechanism. Once you are awake, you can relieve the pressure and restore normal nerve function and blood flow.

One of the fastest ways to restore blood flow is to hang your hand down low over the side of your bed.  But don’t go back to sleep in that position because sleeping that way can cause your hand to become numb again.

If you sleep with an arm tucked up under your pillow, that’s more than enough pressure to cause your hand or arm to go numb.

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Another sleep position that can cause you a problem is sleeping on your side with your hands on the pillow underneath your cheek. When you sleep in this position with your elbows fully bent, you can compress the ulnar nerve at your elbow which causes numbness along the inside of the arm and into your hands. Your ulnar nerve runs from your neck and along your arm.

If you sleep on your side with your hands tucked up underneath your chin, your wrists will be bent and that sleep position just invites numb hands at some point during the night. The nerve that travels through your wrist is called the median nerve, and flexed wrists will often cause compression and numbness.

Front sleepers that slide their arms under their pillow or pull their arms underneath their body will also exert a lot of pressure on the arms and compromise blood flow.

If you’re a back sleeper that throws your arms up over your head, you can experience numbness because it takes more effort for your heart to pump blood up over your head.

Another position that can put pressure on the ulnar nerve for back sleepers is by merely having their elbows pressed against the mattress.

If you engage in a duvet tug of war with your partner, this can also cause numbness because you tend to grip the duvet tightly underneath your chin which compresses the median nerve in your wrist.

Low Blood Pressure Could Cause Night Time Numbness

If you have low blood pressure, then the extra drop that occurs while you sleep could be enough to hinder the circulation to your hands.

Alcohol Can Cause Your Hands To Fall Asleep

People who drink too much alcohol can suffer from vitamin deficiencies because poor dietary habits often accompany excessive alcohol consumption. One such common deficiency is thiamine deficiency which can cause peripheral neuropathy.

Alcoholism can also cause a breakdown of the nervous system which is referred to as alcoholic neuropathy. Both of these causes can lead to numbness in the hands while sleeping.

Your Numb Hands Could Be Caused By Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This condition is caused by increased pressure on the median nerve in your wrist. It involves inflammation of the median nerve, which shares tendons in a narrow tunnel in the wrist called the carpal tunnel.

Carpal tunnel is usually caused by an inflammation of the wrist due to an injury, fluid retention in pregnancy, medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hormonal disorders, and hypothyroidism.

Another common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is making the same repetitive hand or wrist movements over and over.

Symptoms occur most often in the thumb, index finger, middle finger, and half of the ring finger. A different nerve supplies the little finger. If you have problems with your fingers but your little finger is fine, then you could have carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel symptoms commonly occur at night at first, and one of them is numb hands, which revive if you shake your hands.

Many people who have carpal tunnel syndrome are deficient in vitamin B6 and taking a supplement can help to eliminate symptoms. You should also try to minimize repetitive hand and wrist movements. If a large part of your day involves using a keyboard, then you could benefit from altering your computer setup and using some ergonomic aids.

Other repetitive activities include playing the piano, carpentry, painting, or racket sports.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Can Cause Numbness

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is due to pressure or stretching of the ulnar nerve in your elbow, which can cause numbness or tingling in the palm, ring and small fingers, pain in the forearm, and/or weakness in the hand. The ulnar nerve runs in a groove on the inner side of the elbow.

Problems with the ulnar nerve can be caused by:

Pressure: Because this nerve has little fat padding over it, pressure from resting your elbow on things like an armrest or rolled down car window can compress the nerve.

Stretching:  Keeping your elbow bent for a long time can stretch the nerve behind the elbow. This can happen if you have your arm bent to rest your head in your hand for example.

Anatomy:  Sometimes, the ulnar nerve moves around as the elbow is moved. This repeated motion can cause irritation to the nerve.

Numb Hands Can Be Due To Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes can cause peripheral neuropathy and lead to numb hands while you sleep.

Type 2 diabetes has been successfully treated with diet which has allowed people to reduce or stop a medication. If diabetes or prediabetes could be the reason behind your numb hands, then you might be interested in learning about The Blood Sugar Diet.

A Pinched Nerve Can Cause Your Hands to Go Numb While You Sleep

A Pinched Nerve Can Cause Your Hands to Go Numb While You Sleep

Your numbness could be due to a pinched nerve in your neck or back or shoulder. A chiropractor will be able to help you to free the nerve and will be able to recommend an orthopedic pillow which will support your neck correctly.

Cervical Spondylosis

This is a degenerative condition of the cervical or neck joint caused by aging. The disk between the spinal bones herniates (protrudes), compressing the nerve roots around the area. This leads to numbness and weakness in the hands.

Other rare reasons that may cause your hands to fall asleep at night include:

  •    Seizures
  •    Low temperatures
  •    Raynaud’s disease
  •    HIV/AIDS
  •    Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  •    Spinal cord injury
  •    Amyloidosis
  •    Neck injury
  •    Enlarged blood vessels
  •    Tumors
  •    Broken shoulder blade
  •    Ganglion cysts
  •    Multiple sclerosis
  •    Lyme disease
  •    Sjogren’s syndrome
  •    Vasculitis
  •    Syphilis
  •    Side effect of chemotherapy/radiation therapy

How To Treat And Prevent Your Arms or Hands From Falling Asleep at Night

If your numb hands aren’t caused by a more serious condition, then there are steps that you can take to minimize the occurrence of numb hands and get a good night’s sleep. If you are at all worried though you should go and get a checkup with your doctor.

Adjust Your Sleeping Position

This is easier said than done because even if you begin the night in a better position, once you are soundly asleep your position is out of your control. But if you’re the kind of person that tends to sleep in one spot for most of the night, instead of a restless sleeper, then getting into a good position could eliminate your hand problems.

You will want to avoid, front sleeping with your hands under your chest or your pillow, side sleeping with your hands tucked under your chin or cheek or pillow, back sleeping with your arms stretched up over your head or with your arms down at your side. And don’t sleep with an arm hanging over the side of the bed.

The best position to adopt if you can is to lie on your back with your arms straight and your hands resting on your abdomen.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, you should keep your arms straight to keep the flow of blood moving and prevent numbness.

Invest In A Good Quality Pillows And Mattress

One of the reasons that so many people adopt awkward sleeping positions is because their pillow and or mattress isn’t providing proper support. You spend one-third of your life in bed so your body should be well supported there. Skimping on your bed and bedding is a terrible idea if you want to get a comfortable night’s sleep.

Memory foam mattresses, mattress toppers, and pillows offer excellent support and can allow you to get into a comfortable position without scrunching yourself up.

If you sleep propped up on multiple pillows, you may find it more effective to get that elevation by raising the legs at the head of your bed, rather than by setting your neck at an awkward angle that can lead to or worsen the effects of a trapped nerve.

Wrist and Arm Splints

You can buy splints that will keep your elbows and wrists straight while you sleep. These are made from soft, supple material, so they aren’t uncomfortable to wear. They just take some getting used to. Large pharmacies and sports stores should carry these splints, and you can easily find a wide selection online. They aren’t expensive and shouldn’t cost more than $20.

Keep Your Circulation Healthy

In addition to eating a healthy diet make sure that you take good vitamin and mineral supplements to support your cardiovascular system. Three minerals that can have a drastic effect on your cardiovascular health are magnesium, calcium, and potassium. So, make sure that you are getting sufficient levels of these.

Keep Hydrated

When you are dehydrated, your blood becomes thicker and harder to pump around your body. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and avoid drinks that cause dehydration.

Drinks like soda pop with their sodium content are dehydrating because your body will produce more urine to flush out the extra salt. Alcohol and beverages containing caffeine are also dehydrating.

Water, coconut water, and herbal teas are the best hydrating beverages.

Massage

Massage your hands and arms before you get into bed to help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. Massaging with some relaxing lavender essential oil, which is a very effective anti-inflammatory, will help to reduce any swelling which could cause pressure on your ulnar and median nerves. Lavender will also relax you so that you are less likely to scrunch up to sleep and hold your body intense positions.

Exercise

Incorporating gentle exercise into your daily routine will help to improve your overall circulation and lower the inflammation in your body that can lead to compression on your nerves.

Try low impact exercises like walking, or swimming.

Take Frequent Breaks From Repetitive Work

Take regular breaks from any repetitive activities involving your arms, wrists or hands. Stop what you are doing, stretch your arms, rotate your wrists and shoulders and roll your neck.

Use Wrist And Elbow Supports During The Day

In addition to wearing splints at night, you can support your wrists and elbows during the day to minimize unwanted pressure on your nerves.

See your Doctor

Get a checkup to rule out or treat any underlying health conditions. You may need treatment for peripheral neuropathy or a pinched nerve, or diabetes.

Exercises For Pinched Or Trapped Nerves

You can do these exercises as often as is comfortable.

Bending – When your ulnar nerve becomes pinched or trapped at your elbow, it can cause numbness in your little finger and ring finger. You can relieve these symptoms and reduce the likelihood of experiencing numbness at night by doing some arm bending exercises. Extend your arm straight out with your palm facing up toward the ceiling, slowly bring your palm towards you until your arm forms a right angle, then straighten it out again. Repeat 4 times.

 

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Hyperextension – To generate a stretch in your forearm and hand where the ulnar nerve runs, you need to hyperextend your wrist. To do this, place your palms together in a prayer position and push them together until you can feel a stretch in your wrist. Hold this stretch for at least 20 seconds. Repeat 4 times.

Radial Deviation – To do this stretch, sit with your forearm resting on a table, lift your hand slightly off the table, then pivot your thumb upwards towards the shoulder and hold this position for 15 seconds. Do not allow your forearm to lift up from the table

Wrist Flexor Stretch – Hold your arm out in front of you, palm facing up. Keep your elbow straight. Use your other hand to guide your hand down so that your fingers are pointing to the floor and your palm is facing away from you. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 4 times.

Updated: September 8, 2018 by Dr. Kimberly Langdon M.D. All medical facts and points stated on this page are correct as of this date. Please be aware that new content and additional references were added in this last update. All the content and media has been uploaded by Lily Greene our webmaster, who is also in charge of page design. 

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.