Why Your Hands Fall Asleep—and What to Do about It

The perfect at-home date night—you’ve ordered the cheesiest pizza within a 10-mile radius (so the restaurant will still deliver, of course), you’ve got your favorite movie on, and now you’re kicked back on the couch with your arm around your sweetheart. It’s all blissful until your partner starts to nod off, trapping your arm and leading to the dreaded pins and needles. Do you dare move your arm and risk waking up your sleeping beauty, or do you stick it out and push through the tingling?

We’ve all been there. That prickly sensation that suddenly seems to move up your limbs is not quite as fun as it sounds. What causes your hands and arms to “fall asleep”? Is there a way to prevent it? How can you “wake them up”? Should you be concerned when your arms and hands do fall asleep? We’ll answer all your questions. [READ MORE TAG]

Generally, this pins-and-needles sensation occurs when pressure is put on a nerve or on the arm or hand, which prevents blood from properly flowing to the nerves in that area. For example, when your significant other falls asleep on your arm while you’re watching a movie, his or her snoozing body can put pressure on your arm, causing it to react with the tingling feeling. When this happens, it’s best to adjust your position and release the pressure. (Hopefully your partner will understand. If not, make it up to them by making them out for ice cream. Everyone loves ice cream.) The tingling should stop fairly soon after. In cases like this, the prickly feeling is typically harmless and not something to be concerned about.

If the tingling happens frequently, is triggered by repetitive motions, and/or is accompanied by pain, itching, numbness, or muscle wasting, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. It could be a sign of nerve damage (this kind of nerve damage is also known as peripheral neuropathy), which could be caused by diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, vitamin deficiencies, injury, or other conditions. If you wait too long to have peripheral neuropathy treated, it could lead to worsened symptoms and decreased mobility.   

To prevent your hands and arms from falling asleep at night, there are a few preventative measures you can take. (And no, drinking a Mountain Dew before bed won’t help your arms stay “awake”!) Limit your sodium intake as it can cause you to retain water and can potentially cause your hands and wrists to swell, increasing your chance of added pressure on your nerves. Try to avoid sleeping with your hands and arms under your head or pillow. If you know you’ll be doing an activity for a long period of time that requires the use of your hands or wrists, consider wearing a compression wristband.  

Sometimes a “sleeping,” tingly hand can be a little freaky, but for the most part, it’s nothing to be worried about. If it accompanies pain or happens frequently, trust your gut and head to the doctor. Otherwise, keep enjoying your Netflix-binge sessions with your sweetheart! (But maybe put a limit on the arm-laying.)

If you’re dealing with a hand condition that causes pain or makes it difficult to use your hands, don’t hesitate to contact us. Your hand health is our priority—and it should be yours as well! We’ll work with you to find a personalized treatment plan so you can get back to doing the things you love most (like spending Friday night watching Stranger Things and cuddling on the couch). To stay up-to-date on everything happening at HSST, make sure to follow us on Facebook. Our hands heal yours!