Numbness in arms & hands while sleeping

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Have you ever woken up and realised you can’t feel your hands? This surprisingly common issue affects around 7-10% of people when they sleep. It might leave you feeling on edge about sleeping, uncomfortable or even in pain when you wake up. 

But what causes this unpleasant sensation? And what steps can you take to stop it happening? In this article we’ll discuss everything you need to know about this sensation, as well as providing actionable advice for how to counteract the condition.

Why am I waking up with numb hands after sleeping?

The first step towards solving a problem is understanding it. Let’s explore some of the most common reasons a person might wake up with numb hands after a decent night’s rest. 

  • Sleeping posture. Just as when you sit oddly on your leg and get pins and needles during the day, your hands will experience the same kind of sensation if you apply pressure to them when you snooze. Our nerves can become trapped, meaning blood isn’t able to flow to them. As a result, they become numb. 

  • Alcohol intake. Alcohol has the potential to damage your nerve tissues, which can result in you feeling a pain or tingle in your limbs. High consumption will also make it harder for you to absorb the vitamins your body needs to function, which only compounds the issue. 

  • Chemotherapy and other medications. As many as 30-68% of people undergoing chemotherapy will experience some kind of damage to their peripheral nerves. Other medications can also have the same impact, including some antibiotics, blood pressure-reducing medicines, and anticonvulsants.  

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. When the median nerve in your carpal tunnel is compressed, your hand will experience both pain and numbness. This is an increasingly common condition in the modern age, as it’s caused by the likes of typing on a keyboard, using a smart device, or playing certain instruments.

Treating numb hands

Now that we have a better understanding of what the cause might be, it’s time to look at the possible solutions. Here are some of the ways numb hands can be treated to prevent them from becoming a painful issue.

  • Over-the-counter pain meds. Things like ibuprofen or aspirin are effective at dealing with inflammation in your hands and neck. These painkillers will dull the pain, although they won’t necessarily treat the issue itself. 

  • Regular exercise. Strengthening the muscles which are being affected (those in your carpal tunnel) will also help you to combat the condition. Even just warming your muscles up by stretching out your hand will have an impact. 

  • Vitamin B-12. If your numbness is brought on as a result of a deficiency in Vitamin B-12, it would be smart to supplement it by eating foods which are high in this. Good examples include eggs, live, and salmon. 

  • Wrist guards. These devices help to keep your wrists straight, which in turn will take pressure away from your median nerve. These can be worn throughout the day, as well as when you actually go to bed.

Tips for preventing numb hands when sleeping

It’s most likely you’ll want to try and nip numb hands in the bud before they can even become a factor. If that’s the case, here are some of the best pieces of advice for preventing this uncomfortable sensation upon waking.

  • Think about how you sleep. It’s easier said than done, but changing your position when snoozing will have a big impact on preventing your hands going to sleep. Try not to place your arms or hands under your pillow, and try to keep them by your side to avoid any kind of pinching.

  • Wear a brace to bed. Wearing a wrist guard or brace will help keep your hand stable throughout the night, and prevent any nerves from becoming trapped. Having a brace on while you sleep might feel unnatural at first, but over time it’ll be something you don’t notice as much.

  • Avoid night caps. Alcohol can be toxic to nerve tissue. Even if you only have one drink, your body might be more prone to performing differently when you sleep. While you don’t need to avoid drinking altogether, it’s best to moderate it – and try to avoid having anything a few hours before sleeping. 

Other medical conditions which cause numb hands

Sleeping funny on your limbs isn’t the only cause of numbness in your digits while you rest. While not always the case, this feeling can also point towards other underlying illnesses. Make sure to keep all of the following in mind if you’re concerned.

  • Cervical spondylosis of the neck. This degenerative disease affects neck muscles, bones, and tendons. While usually only found in older adults, the condition can impact people of all ages in extreme cases. Neck pain is the primary symptom to watch out for, but a numbness of the arms, shoulders, or fingers can also occur.

  • Thoracic outlet syndrome. When your blood vessels become compressed or irritated, your hands and other extremities can become numb owing to a lack of circulation. Whiplash or neck trauma are the most common causes of this condition. 

  • Peripheral neuropathy. If you have damaged nerves, you’re likely to experience a variety of pain, weakness and numbness in the areas which have been most heavily affected. In extreme cases, digestion, urination and even your blood circulation can also suffer. 

  • Ganglion cysts. These noncancerous cysts tend to form along joints and tendons which connect the hands to the wrist. The pressure they exert on nerves causes the familiar feeling of numbness which we associate with pins and needles. They are often pea-sized, but can grow larger in extreme cases.

When to see a doctor for number hands when sleeping

Just as with any medical condition, there comes a point when you’ll need to actively seek professional attention. You may be experiencing a lack of sleep, or pain which has become impossible to ignore. If any of the following apply, it’s time to reach out and speak to a GP about your hands.

  • Muscles that are weak 

  • Inability to grip and weakness in the hands 

  • Pain your arms and legs that won’t stop 

  • If the numbness lasts throughout the day 

  • A sudden weakness or feeling of being dizzy

Do you have a clearer picture of how to manage and prevent issues which lead to numb hands after sleeping? Make sure to keep all these points in mind, and also check out our full list of guides for advice on how to get the best night’s rest.

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