Numbness in the hands while sleeping can occur when a person falls asleep in a position that compresses the blood vessels or nerves in the hands. This type of hand numbness should resolve when the individual changes their sleeping position. However, numbness in the hands while sleeping may indicate nerve damage due to an underlying health condition.
This article discusses the potential causes of hand numbness while sleeping and the causes, treatment, and diagnosis.
Certain sleep postures can put pressure on the nerves in the arms and hands.
Those who sleep on their stomach may experience hand numbness if they sleep with their hands underneath their head.
Those who sleep on their side may bend their arms or wrists in a way that restricts blood flow to their hands.
Those who sleep on their back can wake up with numb hands if they rest the back of their head on their arm.
Hand numbness that results from poor sleeping posture typically resolves when a person changes to a position that does not put pressure on their arms or hands.
People who frequently experience hand numbness at night may want to try different sleeping positions.
The ulnar nerve is one of three nerves that provide feeling to a person’s hand. Ulnar tunnel syndrome (UTS) occurs due to the compression of the ulnar nerve at the wrist.
Other causes include repetitive trauma and chronic pressure.
Symptoms can develop slowly. A person may experience numbness and weakness on the outer side of the hand but may not always feel pain.
Treatment typically depends on the cause. However, anti-inflammatory medication can help to ease symptoms. A person may also use a wrist splint.
If the cause is due to a growth at the wrist, a surgeon may remove it. According to the AAOS, the nerve may take several months to recover.
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway located in the wrist. The median nerve and the tendons of the fingers pass through the carpal tunnel.
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) occurs due to compression of the median nerve inside the carpal tunnel.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), CTS often results from issues with surrounding connective tissues rather than the median nerve.
Repetitive motion injuries, fractures, and sprains in the wrist can lead to swelling that increases pressure on the median nerve.
NINDS state that CTS symptoms tend to appear during the night. People with CTS may experience numbness or pain in their fingers, hand, or wrist in the middle of the night or upon waking in the morning. Over time, these symptoms may persist during the day.
The symptoms of CTS include:
- numbness in the thumb, index, and middle fingers
- pain or numbness that gradually spreads to the hand and wrist
- weakness in the fingers and hands
NINDS also mentions that untreated CTS can lead to loss of muscle tissue at the base of the thumb, loss of grip strength, and reduced sensitivity to temperature changes in the thumb and fingers.
People can manage CTS symptoms with rest, wrist splints, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers.
A person can also get surgery.
Carpal tunnel release is a surgical procedure that involves cutting the carpal ligament at the base of the palm to reduce pressure on the median nerve.
Diabetic neuropathy refers to nerve damage due to diabetes.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), diabetes is a chronic disease that impairs the body’s ability to produce or use insulin. As a result, the body cannot correctly process blood glucose or blood sugar.
The NIDDK say that over time, high blood glucose levels can damage nerves and the blood vessels that supply them.
There are a few different types of diabetic neuropathy:
- Peripheral: This typically affects the hands and feet.
- Autonomic: This affects the internal organs.
- Focal: This is damage to single nerves, typically in the hand, torso, leg, and head.
- Proximal: This is rare and affects the hip, buttock, and thigh.
People who have peripheral neuropathy may experience the following symptoms in the hands, feet, legs, or arms:
- tingling sensation
- difficulty sensing pain or temperature in the affected part of the body
Those who have focal neuropathy in the hands may experience:
- CTS, which causes numbness, pain, and tingling in the fingers
- ulnar entrapment, which causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the little and ring fingers
Unfortunately, doctors cannot undo nerve damage. Treatments for diabetic neuropathy tend to focus on managing symptoms and preventing further nerve damage.
Examples of treatments for diabetic neuropathy include:
- OTC pain relievers
- antidepressants and anticonvulsants for nerve pain
- topical creams, patches, or sprays that contain lidocaine
- OTC or prescription medicines to treat digestive problems
- antibiotics for bladder or skin infections
- wearing a splint or brace
Surgery may be an option for focal neuropathy.
Cervical spondylosis is an age-related condition that affects the spinal vertebrae in the neck. The AAOS states that it most commonly occurs in those aged 60 or older.
Over time, age-related degeneration changes the structure of the spine.
In some cases, the cartilage disc that cushions the vertebra starts to wear away until the two vertebrae rub against each other. This degeneration can increase pressure on the spinal cord and lead to numbness or tingling in the hands and fingers, although many people will experience no noticeable symptoms.
Other symptoms include:
- pain or stiffness in the neck
- reduced range of motion in the neck
- pain that radiates from the base of the head down to the upper back
- weakness in the arms, hands, or fingers
- loss of grip strength
- difficulty performing daily tasks, such as tying shoelaces, buttoning a shirt, or grasping small objects
- reduced stability when walking
- physical therapy to strengthen the upper back and neck muscles
- pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, or muscle relaxants
- specially designed neck braces and cervical pillows can relieve neck pain
- trigger point injections (TPIs) for neck, shoulder, or upper arm pain
- steroid injections in the space around the spinal cord
- cervical discectomy, which involves removing a herniated disc that is pinching or compressing the spinal cord
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism state that alcohol use disorder (AUD) results from an inability to control or stop alcohol use.
Excessive alcohol consumption over a long period can lead to adverse social, psychological, and physical consequences.
Alcoholic neuropathy can cause the following symptoms:
- pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands, arms, and legs
- muscle cramps, spasms, or contractions
- muscle weakness
- bladder and bowel changes
- abdominal bloating
- nausea or vomiting
- hypersensitivity to temperature changes
- sexual dysfunction
According to one 2020 article, if a person stops drinking alcohol, the outlook is favorable.
They state that most people with alcohol neuropathy regain complete function when they stop drinking.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy may also be helpful.
Other possible causes of hand numbness while sleeping include:
The following tips can help prevent or manage hand numbness while sleeping:
- avoid sleeping with the arms, elbows, or wrists bent
- avoid sleeping on top of the arms or hands
- manage any underlying health condition that may contribute to hand numbness
- take frequent breaks from repetitive wrist activities
If a person experiences numbness in their hands during the night or upon waking in the morning, they can massage or shake out their hands to try to resolve the numbness on their own.
Hand numbness that resolves over a short period typically indicates that a compressed nerve or blood vessel caused the numbness. People can change their sleeping position to prevent this type of numbness.
A healthcare provider can diagnose numbness related to an underlying medical condition. They can make their diagnosis based on a physical examination and a review of a person’s medical history.
A person may want to see a doctor if their hand numbness persists despite trying at-home treatments, such as changing sleeping positions or wearing a brace at night.
A person should contact a doctor if they experience numbness in their hands that continues during the day or spreads to the arm, shoulder, or neck.
Waking up in the middle of the night with numb hands may be a sign of poor sleeping posture. However, hand numbness that persists, regardless of the sleeping position, may indicate an underlying medical condition.
Conditions that can lead to hand numbness at night include CTS, diabetic neuropathy, cervical spondylosis, and AUD.
A healthcare provider can diagnose the underlying cause of hand numbness. They can also recommend effective lifestyle changes and treatment options based on their diagnosis. Treating the underlying conditions should also take care of any related numbness.