Arm Numbness When Sleeping, What’s Causing It?

Oct 23, 2023

Arm numbness when sleeping can affect our sleep and create anxiety of what is causing the discomfort. Arm numbness shows up in different places on the hand, one of the most common pinky numbness. Sleeping well at night is something that is necessary for healthy habits. Seeking help from a specialist like a chiropractic orthopedist can help.

Arm numbness when you sleep that runs into the whole hand, or numbness of the pinky finger, their may be an easy answer. Stine Chiropractic Clinic has been in the Fredericksburg, and Spotsylvania area for over 35 years and explains how chiropractic orthopedics can help you. Located on Lafayette Boulevard in Fredericksburg Virginia. We will address arm numbness and its simple causes as well as its serious implications, as well as why you may have pinky numbness, or hand numbness in the night.

Why do I wake up at night with numb arms and hands? Arm numbness when sleeping.

Arm numbness in the middle of the night can be caused by sleeping positions. If you tend to sleep on your back your elbows may be resting in the mattress. This will give you pinky numbness in the night. This can manifested as right arm numbness, or left arm numbness, or even both arms becoming numb. Pinky numbness may also be present if you sleep on your side. This is most commonly caused by sleeping on the affected arm or arms in the fully flexed position.

Depending on what side you sleep on commonly this may show up as right arm numbness or left arm numbness. When we sleep with our arms fully flexed all night this compromises the small area in the elbow that the ulnar nerve travels through, and creates pinky numbness. The ulnar nerve is more commonly referred to as the “funny bone”. This creates a bizarre feeling that travels down from the elbow and into the pinky finger.

If we decrease the diameter of the hole where the ulnar nerve travels for a prolonged period, like the entire night, we compress the ulnar nerve. Nerves will become irritated under direct pressure. Nerves will also become irritated if we black their blood supply.

How do I stop my arm numbness when sleeping?

In order to keep your arms from going numb when you sleep, you need to make sure you are sleeping in the correct position. Never sleep with arms bent completely, whether that be on your back or side. Full flexion, or maximum bend in the elbow, creates the most amount of pressure on one of the nerves that runs into the hand. This creates pinky numbness.

If you are having what feels like whole hand or arm numbness while sleeping, you may need to look out for sleeping on the outstretched arm. This creates compression of the radial nerve which makes you feel like the whole hand is numb. The radial nerve is also a motor nerve, meaning it controls your muscles. This can make your arm feel very weak. The radial nerve is found in the depression that your tricep makes when you contract it. This is termed the radial groove. Numbness in the arm can also be caused by compression in the neck, and this needs to be evaluated by your chiropractic orthopedist to make sure that this is corrected.

Is it bad if your arm goes completely numb when sleeping?

Arm numbness while sleeping or going completely numb during the night is not necessarily a bad thing as it can create discomfort in the night that makes us move out of the offending position. Numbness that persists after you wake or move out of the offending position may be more complex, and should be evaluated by a chiropractic orthopedist. This will ensure that every compression site will be evaluated for its role in the condition. If you allow the condition to continue through multiple night over a long period of time, this can create a problem that is harder to correct if damage to the nerve occurs from prolonged compression.

When should I worry about arm numbness when sleeping?

Arm numbness should be evaluated by a specialist, like a chiropractic orthopedist. Concerns about arm numbness should always be evaluated sooner rather than later.

Allowing the condition to continue for too long may create damage to the nerve involved. This makes full recovery longer. When dealing with arm numbness the most concerning would be left arm numbness. This is because the classic left arm pain that happens when we are having trouble with the heart. This can be evaluated thoroughly by a specialist like a chiropractic orthopedist to figure out if the heart is actually the root cause.

Arm numbness especially left arm numbness, that begins with minimal exertion may be a sign of heart problems. The likelihood of heart issues increases if other symptoms are present as well such as, increased sweating for no reason (diaphoresis), feeling weak in other areas of the body as well, chest pain, neck or jaw pain, or numbness diminishing with rest.

Other types of arm numbness that should raise concern is the severity. Severity can be measured by how intense the pain is and quality of pain. If the pain or numbness is severe, or they persist all day and all night, then proper evaluation is necessary by a specialist like a chiropractic orthopedist. Arm numbness that includes muscle weakness, like clumsiness with mugs of coffee or picking up small items is a sign of severity that needs evaluation and management.

It is always best to be evaluated by a specialist who can thoroughly check the different possibilities for your arm numbness, especially if it’s left arm weakness.

Is there a way to tell what nerve is affected, causing arm numbness while sleeping?

When trying to narrow down where the compression is coming from, it’s necessary to recognize which fingers are going numb. When peripheral nerves are compressed there are different areas that the numbness shows up. This is different than when spinal nerves are compressed in the neck region causing arm numbness when sleeping. These differences are quite subtle, but will give your specialist the best idea of what structures are causing the symptoms.

Peripheral nerve involvement creating arm numbness when sleeping

Below are different mappings of peripheral nerve presentations. Com[pare the following two diagrams and take note of the subtle differences seen in the hands.

Different areas of arm numbness based on peripheral nerve. Depending on what areas of arm numbness when sleeping, can indicate the nerve involved like pinky numbness.

Peripheral pattern of nerve dysfunction Illustration by Renee Cannon

Spinal nerve involvement creating arm numbness when sleeping

Spinal nerve presentations (also called dermatomal) are areas where spinal nerves, when affected show up in these certain distributions. When having arm and hand numbness its important that the site of impingement be considered and investigated.

Dermatomal or spinal nerve distribution of arm numbness. Depending on what areas of arm numbness when sleeping, can indicate the nerve involved.

Dermatomal mapping of the upper extremity. Illustration by Renee Cannon.

Did you notice the subtle differences?

Notice the difference between the ulnar nerve which is the pinky numbness and pinky half of ring finger, and C8 in the next or last image, which is pinky numbness and full ring finger numbness.

C7 can be seen to correspond to the peripheral nerve, the median nerve. The difference is that the C7 nerve covers the front and back sides of the index and middle fingers, while the median covers the front of the thumb index and half of the ring finger. Also to note is that the median does not have much innervation to the back side of the hand except the tips of the index, middle, and half of the ring finger.

Now comparing C6 to the radial nerve distributions, C6 is the front and back of the thumb while the radial nerve innervates the top of the thumb with a lot more coverage of the back of the hand. These subtle differences are what your specialist can use to determine the origin of compression.

Suffering from arm numbness while sleeping.

If you have arm numbness while sleeping, or symptoms like this, seeking the care of a chiropractic orthopedist should be on the top of your list. These types of specialist are able to identify and diagnose the condition as well as treat the condition with the most up to date conservative management.

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