Is Waking Up with Numb Hands Normal?

While it can be concerning to wake up and have no feeling in one or both hands, sensation returns for most people after a few minutes. There are times when hand numbness can be concerning, though.

A woman sleeping on a bed with her hand hanging off the edge.
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Waking up from a deep sleep with tingly or numb hands can range from slightly annoying to downright painful. The cause is often because the position you were sleeping in compressed the nerves in your arm, neck, or hand. For most of us, this happens only occasionally and is nothing to worry about. The tingling sensation goes away in a few minutes of moving it out of the position.

However, if you find that you’re frequently waking up with pins and needles in your hands, and the tingling feeling takes a long time to go away, it could be caused by an underlying health issue.

What causes hand numbness while sleeping?

There are several causes of numb hands. Some of the most common are listed below.

Ulnar nerve entrapment

The ulnar nerve is named for its proximity to your forearm’s ulna bone. The ulnar nerve similarly runs inside your arm, from your elbow to your hand, and gives feeling to your hand and forearm, as well as the pinky and ring fingers. When the nerve is compressed, your arm and hand can feel tingly and uncomfortable. This can be caused by your sleep position if you sleep on your side or with your arms tucked beneath you.

Radial nerve compression

The radial nerve runs down your neck and through your arm, forearm, and hand. It helps you rotate your elbows and wrists and move your fingers. In more severe cases, this nerve can be compressed by a group of muscles in your elbow known as the radial tunnel. This is known as radial tunnel syndrome and can cause arm pain and limited motion. This can be caused by sleeping with your head on your forearm, and is often experienced by people trying to sleep on airplanes or in cars.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

This condition is caused when the median nerve is compressed in your wrist (or carpal). The median nerve helps you feel sensation on the inside of your thumb, as well as the index, middle, and ring fingers. When the nerve is compressed, you may feel numbness, weakness, and pain in your fingers, wrist, hand, forearm, or arm.

Peripheral neuropathy

Damage to the peripheral nerves, or peripheral neuropathy, can cause many different issues. Damage to the small fibers of sensory nerves can cause nerve pain that is worse at night. This pain can be caused by the pain receptors randomly firing or your nervous system not processing nerve signals correctly. The most common causes of peripheral neuropathy are diabetes and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a rare neurological disorder that causes your immune system to attack your nerves.

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Thoracic outlet syndrome is when the nerves, veins, or arteries located between the top ribs and the collarbone are compressed. It can cause pain or discomfort in the hands or fingers, among other symptoms.

When should you be concerned about hand numbness?

If you experience frequent numbness in your hands, fingers, or arms, and it takes more than a few minutes to regain sensation, make an appointment with your doctor. They can do a physical examination and perform tests to rule out more serious health conditions.

How can I stop my hands from going numb when I’m sleeping?

If you’re not dealing with a medical condition, there are a few things you can do to limit your hands or arm going numb while sleeping. When you are settling in to go to sleep, be mindful of how you position yourself.

  • Don’t rest your head on your hands or forearms.
  • Avoid the fetal position, which can compress your shoulder.
  • Keep your hands and fingers flat and avoid making a fist.
  • Try to keep your arms relaxed, and your elbows from being bent more than 90 degrees.
  • Use pillows to prop up your arms and hands when you’re sleeping on your side or back.
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach. This can make it more likely that you put pressure on your arms and elbows.

If you’re experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, use cushions or braces when doing activities like typing, writing, or knitting, which can make symptoms worse.

For severe cases of nerve compression, lifestyle changes might not be enough. Your doctor can evaluate the severity of your condition and may recommend physical therapy, massage therapy, or even surgery to alleviate compression on the nerve.

More questions about numb hands

What is nerve compression syndrome?

Nerve compression syndrome occurs when there’s pressure on a nerve. This can cause tingling and discomfort in the areas the nerve runs through. Common types of nerve compression syndrome include carpal tunnel syndrome and ulnar nerve entrapment.

What causes nerve compression syndrome?

Nerve compression syndrome is caused by putting too much pressure on the nerve. For example, sleeping with your head on your forearm can compress the nerves that run through your arm.

What are the symptoms of nerve compression?

The symptoms of nerve compression usually include numbness or discomfort in the area that gets sensation from that nerve.

What is ulnar nerve entrapment?

Ulnar nerve entrapment can occur when the elbow is kept fully bent too long or the elbow is leaned against a solid surface with a lot of pressure for a long period of time, leading to a feeling like banging your funny bone. It can also happen when there is direct pressure on the nerve through the wrist. Sleeping on your arm is a common cause of ulnar nerve entrapment, but small things like leaning the wrong way on bike handlebars can also compress the nerve. Sometimes, the ulnar nerve moves and becomes irritated by the movement of the elbow.

How do you know if you have ulnar nerve entrapment?

Symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment include tingling, weakness, or tenderness in the hand, fourth and fifth fingers, and elbow joint. A doctor can diagnose the condition through a physical exam and some lab tests.

What aggravates ulnar nerve entrapment?

Keeping the elbow bent for too long, putting too much pressure on the elbow or wrist, or an ulnar nerve that moves can all make symptoms worse.

What is peripheral neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is when the nerves that are a part of the peripheral nervous system are damaged. The peripheral nervous system sends information to the central nervous system and helps you feel sensations in your limbs. Peripheral neuropathy can then lead to numbness, tingling, and weakness in the extremities, namely the feet and hands.

How do you fix peripheral neuropathy?

The best way to fix peripheral neuropathy is to determine the condition that is causing it and treat it. Causes can include diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cancer, and mineral deficiency, as well as prolonged or excessive nicotine and alcohol use.

What is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy?

One of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes. This is because having high blood sugar levels for a long period of time can prevent your nerves from getting the blood flow they need to function correctly.