What Does Waking Up With Numb Hands Mean?

What Does Waking Up With Numb Hands Mean?

This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on March 25, 2024.

Do you ever find yourself waking up with a tingling sensation running through your hands, fingers, or wrist? Or feel any sort of sharp pain in your wrist? Maybe it’s the middle of the night and you’ve realized your hands are suddenly numb or your fingers feel swollen… what does this mean?

If you experience numbness in your hands and fingers, muscle weakness, or abnormal sensations, our rehabilitation physical therapy experts are here to help.

Why do my hands go numb while sleeping?

If you have ever asked yourself, “Why are my hands numb in the morning?” you are not alone. Waking up with numb hands is not uncommon. Your hands are full of nerves that travel through “tunnels.” When we bend joints, these tunnels are slightly compressed, becoming narrower.

If we keep these joints bent for too long, a nerve known as the “median nerve” may become pinched while it’s traveling through the carpal tunnel in our wrist. There is not enough blood flow for these nerves to travel freely or function properly while in this squeezed position, potentially causing you to wake up with numb hands or wrist pain.

This nerve compression leads to many symptoms you may be experiencing, such as tingling hands, waking up with numb hands, pain in your fingers, or the sensation of your fingers being swollen. Or, if the elbow is bent instead, this has a similar effect as a pinched nerve. Instead of the “median nerve,” the bent elbow may cause ulnar nerve compression, causing similar symptoms (especially in certain fingers such as the pinky little finger or ring finger).

How do I stop numbness in hands while sleeping? 

If you’re waking up with numb hands from nerve irritation, experiencing numb hands at night, have swollen fingers, or are experiencing any abnormal sensations, then it’s critical to take the proper steps toward carpal tunnel syndrome prevention.

It’s a possibility that you may be experiencing cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, where your ulnar nerve is irritated or compressed inside of your elbow. This will also cause numbness in hands while sleeping and elbow pain.

Since the nerve compression from bent joints can trigger a numb hand, there are a few ways and treatment options to resolve this, including ensuring that you don’t bend these elbow or wrist/hand joints for long periods of time (including sleeping at night).

There are a few ways to achieve this:

  • Wear a wrist splint: wearing a splint while you sleep can help prevent waking up with numb hands, since it holds your joints in place, in the ideal, neutral position. This keeps the carpal tunnel as wide as possible, helping to prevent the peripheral nerves from getting caught in the pinch. They’re able to travel through the tunnel freely, helping to make sure that you don’t wake up with a numb hand or a tingling sensation.
  • Place a towel around the joints: if you don’t have a wrist splint or wrist brace handy, a towel can have a similar effect. You can wrap the joints with the towel (or kinesiology taping if you have it) to help keep your joints straight while you are fast asleep.

Common Causes of Numb Hands

Numb hands at night or during the day are a symptom of something called “peripheral neuropathy,” which is a result of nerve damage. Neuropathy can cause weakness, numbness, nerve pain, and other nerve problems, especially in your hands and feet.

When your joints are compressed from being bent at an awkward angle for a long period of time such as sleeping, the cut-off blood circulation and nerve pain may wake you up in the middle of the night with hand pain. Your sleeping position and posture are especially important, since you may be holding your hands in a certain, bent position-such as sleeping on your hands-causing numbness and a potential tingling sensation from the nerve damage.

Carpal tunnel syndrome can also trigger this, since a nerve known as the “median nerve” may be compressed or overused throughout the day, leading to a tingling sensation or chronic pain.

Radial nerve compression, a less common cause of hand numbness, occurs when the radial nerve, which runs along the arm, is compressed. This can lead to numbness, especially on the back of the hand and fingers, affecting the thumb, index, and middle fingers.

When should I worry about hand numbness?

If you are experiencing tingling hands, finger numbness, or wrist problems, it is most likely caused by nerve damage. Whether it’s your middle finger, ring finger, pinky finger or whole hand, if the numbness does not go away after relieving the pressure from sleeping on your hands at night, then there may be other issues, such as a more serious medical condition or underlying cause of chronic pain.

Treating Numb Hands

If you or someone you know wakes up with numbness or tingling in the hands, it’s recommended to see a specialist who can help, such as an occupational therapist.

Seeing an occupational therapist at a physical therapy clinic who specializes in hand therapy and nerve problems can help provide suggestions on how to relieve hand numbness or any hand pain that may persist after waking up. Our therapists are with you every step of the way, providing the guidance and treatment to help.

To learn more about our services, book a physical therapy appointment today!


Article by: Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA

Ivy Rehab 

Holly is a practicing physical therapist, partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network with more than 40 years of experience in sports management with young athletes, and is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults. Deuer is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

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