Circulation or Something More? Exploring Causes of Arm Numbness After Sleep

Learn what may cause arm numbness in the morning and what you can do to prevent it. See when it’s recommended to see a doctor about numbness.


Arm numbness is not a pleasant way to start the day. Instead of jumping out of bed ready to face the day, you’re left with a tingling sensation that makes movement uncomfortable. As you shake your arm, trying to get rid of the pins and needles sensation, it’s common to worry that the numbness is from something serious. 

The good news, though, is that most cases of morning arm numbness can be tied to your sleeping position, and waking up with a numb arm isn’t usually a concern, especially if it’s only every once in a while. However, if arm numbness is making it hard to sleep or continues long after you’re up and moving, it may be from another medical condition that requires your doctor’s attention. 

What Can Cause Morning Arm Numbness?

Many people define numbness as a “pins and needles” sensation, and it is often referred to as your arm, foot, or other body part “going to sleep.” However, rather than your limb sleeping, numbness occurs because of nerve compression, nerve damage, or something else that interferes with your nervous system. So, the sensation of pins and needles is because of an interruption in your nerves, not because your arm is still tired. 

That being said, waking up with arm numbness is a sign that something is interfering with your nervous system—the following are some of the possibilities. 

Sleep Position

If you wake up with numbness in your arm, your sleeping position is often to blame. This is because certain sleeping positions can compress the nerves in your wrist, elbow, or arm, producing a tingling sensation.

Yet another way your sleeping position may cause numbness is by cutting off or reducing blood flow to your arm. Without blood, your nerves will temporarily stop sending signals, which causes numbness. 

Waking up with arm numbness may be more common if you sleep with your:

  • Hands under your face or head
  • Wrists curled inward
  • Torso on top of your arm
  • Head on your forearm
  • Spine in misalignment due to your head placement

Stomach sleeping, in particular, is highly associated with nerve compression, likely because it makes the above positionings more likely. 

As for what position is best to avoid arm numbness, some experts say sleeping on your side is best, as long as you keep your wrists straight. 

Poor Circulation

Just like how your sleeping position can compress the nerves in your arm, elbow, and wrist, it may also block blood flow to your arm, which can cause the nerves to temporarily stop functioning, resulting in tingling. Think of the numbness as a sign that you need to reposition your body, as your current position is blocking blood flow. 

However, sometimes it’s more than just your sleeping position to blame. Certain conditions, such as blood vessel inflammation or plaque buildup in the arteries, can cause problems with your circulatory system, reducing blood flow. If your arm gets less blood flow because of this inflammation or buildup, arm numbness may result. 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tendons in the wrist become swollen and press on the median nerve, which runs through your wrist. This compression can cause pain in the wrist, middle finger, index finger, and thumb, alongside numbness that extends from the hand down the wrist.

Many people with carpal tunnel syndrome find that their symptoms get worse at night, but shaking your hands may offer relief. 

As for who is most susceptible to this common nerve injury, those who use their hands to complete repetitive actions are most likely to develop it—think computer workers, golfers, knitters, etc. Having certain medical conditions can also make you more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, and they include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, underactive thyroid gland, and pregnancy.  

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs if there is damage to your peripheral nerves, or the nerves that branch out from your brain and spinal cord (essentially, every other nerve in your body). Some symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include burning, tingling, and numbness.
As for what can cause the nerve damage, it can be several things, including infection, diabetes, vitamin deficiency, autoimmune disorders, medication side effects, toxin exposure, and alcohol use. In most cases, managing the cause of your neuropathy can help improve the sense of tingling. 

How to Stop Nighttime Arm Numbness

Waking up with numbness in your arm is never pleasant, but by focusing on your sleeping position, you can help prevent it from occurring. First, ensure your pillow and mattress are soft but supportive enough to prevent pressure points from developing in the neck and shoulders. Once your support is in place, try sleeping on your side, but, specifically, avoid any position that puts pressure on your arms, such as lying on your arms while you sleep.

Other tips you can try to prevent arm numbness include:

  • Wearing a wrist brace while sleeping to stabilize your wrist and prevent it from bending inward
  • Keeping wrists unflexed
  • Stretching hands, wrists, and shoulders before going to sleep
  • If your numbness is due to inflammation, take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin or ibuprofen). 

When It’s Time to See a Doctor

While waking up with numbness in your arm isn’t uncommon, it should not occur every day. Furthermore, it should improve when you change positions. If it doesn’t and lasts during the day, it may be time to see a doctor. 

A doctor can help determine the cause of your arm numbness and help you find treatment. This may include medication, such as antidepressants or antiseizure medications, to relieve pain, or surgery to treat compressed nerves. 

If your arm numbness is accompanied by pain in your neck, you’re urinating more frequently than usual, have a rash, are dizzy, or have muscle spasms, it’s best to see a doctor as these symptoms, alongside arm numbness, may be indicative of other medical conditions. 

Furthermore, if your numbness is accompanied by the following, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Uncontrollable movements in the arm or hand
  • An inability to move parts of the body
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty talking, walking, or seeing

Navigating Morning Arm Numbness

Waking up with numbness in your arm or hand is not an unusual way to start your day, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. In most cases, it’s due to your sleeping position compressing your nerves or blocking blood flow. Once you move your arm, nerve function and blood flow are restored, and the tingling dissipates.

However, some medical conditions can cause numbness in your arm, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or nerve damage due to diabetes. If your numbness occurs frequently, even if you sleep in different positions, it’s best to speak to your doctor to get to the bottom of your arm numbness. 


Written by

Jessica G

Medical writer freelancer who has written hundreds of articles on varying topics. Masters of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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