What Does Waking Up With Numb Hands Mean?
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?
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 circulation for these nerves to travel freely or function properly while in this squeezed position, potentially causing you to wake up with numb hands.
This pinched nerve 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 pinch the “ulnar nerve,” causing similar symptoms (especially in certain fingers such as the pinky finger or ring finger).
How do I stop my hands from going numb when I sleep?
If you’re waking up with numb hands, 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 prevention. Since the pinched nerves from bent joints trigger numb hands, there are a few ways 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 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 tingly, numb hands.
- Place a towel around the joints: if you don’t have a splint 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.
What are numb hands a symptom of?
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, or nerve pain, 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 posture is 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 tingly sensation. Carpal tunnel syndrome can also trigger this, since a nerve known as the “median nerve” may be compressed or overused throughout the day.
When should I worry about hand numbness?
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 health condition or underlying cause of pain. Seeing an occupational therapist at a physical therapy clinic who specializes in hand therapy can help provide suggestions on how to relieve hand numbness or any pain that may persist after waking up. You can book an appointment at your nearest location by clicking here.
Article by: Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA
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.