Wife attacks me while asleep. Why?
March 22, 2011 9:03 AM   Subscribe

So my wife tends to dig her fingernails into me when we're both asleep. Why?

I've been married 11 years, and occasionally at night when we are both sleeping, my wife will dig her fingernails into my skin. Usually in my back or just above my hips. It's a quick jerk, reflexive maybe, that is pretty painful. She could go months and months between attacks, but it's recently started happening every other night or so (twice in a row so far this week). It's probably not worth trying to figure out a way to stop her; sometimes if I'm awake enough I can kind of sense her about to do it and stop her, by turning her over usually. I guess I'm mostly curious as to why it happens.
posted by Brocktoon to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
The best ways to stop her would almost certainly be getting her to clip her nails short or wear gloves to bed (they make thin fabric ones that are designed to moisturize your hands while you sleep). I'm afraid I don't know why she does it, though.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2011

You're sure she's asleep, huh?
posted by bricoleur at 9:17 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

she is dreaming about being a lion or tiger or bear? oh my. my boo does this sometimes. usually it is dream related.
posted by anya32 at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, because when I wake up violently in pain, she also jerks awake.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2011

Stress perhaps? Sit down with her and figure out what's going in her life right now, see if there's something that's bothering her, stressing her out. It sounds like she's frightened or worried about something in the dream. What is she dreaming when this happens? Might have to wake her up to find out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:33 AM on March 22, 2011

A little anecdote: both my father and I are not allowed to fall asleep while holding someone's upper arm because we have a tendency of gradually increasing pressure until the arm in question is devoid of any blood circulation/about to snap the bone.
Oddly enough, out of curiosity my mother has endured the pain for a while to see how strong I'd go (she has a very high threshold for pain, while I'm the weakling/wuss of the family). She said it was several times stronger than any strength I'm capable of showing while awake. (She tried to get me to re-create the effect on the other arm, while awake. pfft!)

Why I do it? No idea. I was just taking a lovely little nap. I'd swear she was making up it, but there is no way the woman would invent something that even hints of my having a decent amount of physical strength (in her eyes).
posted by Neekee at 9:34 AM on March 22, 2011

I wonder if she is experiencing some form of hypnic jerk or something more rare like periodic limb movement disorder.
posted by muddgirl at 9:38 AM on March 22, 2011

In other words - it probably has nothing to do with you. You just happen to be sleeping close to her.
posted by muddgirl at 9:39 AM on March 22, 2011

muddgirl has it. I do this every once in a while. It gets worse when my sleep schedule starts getting irregular.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2011

I scratch myself and sometimes grip my alternate arm hard/viciously enough to wake myself up (most of the time I just wake up with scratches.) It's not you.

One thing that helps me is to focus on being calm before bed: when I pray and listen to quiet music and read happy non-adventurous stuff before I go to sleep, I am less likely to wake up with scratches. It also went down a lot when I moved into a nicer, quieter, air conditioned home - two years ago there was a new scratch just about daily, and now it's unusual enough that I immediately dial up the calming sleep measures in response.
posted by SMPA at 9:56 AM on March 22, 2011

I sometimes punch my husband during the night while asleep. I always feel terrible about it the next day, and it's commonly associated with me 'fighting' somebody/something in my dream.

It's kind of like how, if I'm in a dream and it's really, really hard to talk, then I know I'm moving my real mouth. It's an interesting awareness to know that you're dreaming and makes the dream/wake barrier feel really thin. However, usually when I'm fighting, I'm unaware that I'm dreaming until my husband wakes me up to stop my punches.

The link about the hypnic jerk is really interesting to me, because I used to grab my husband suddenly, feeling like he was falling out of his loft.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:09 AM on March 22, 2011

Are you snoring? My partner will often elbow or push during sleep when I am (which is apparently often).
posted by GriffX at 11:14 AM on March 22, 2011

I agree that it's probably hypnic jerks. My partner gets them too, particularly when her sleep hygiene isn't great. She always falls asleep first, so I recognize the pattern: small twitches, slightly bigger twitches, then maybe a full-body twitch that wakes her up briefly before she falls fully asleep. If we're touching when the bigger twitches happen, she's likely to pull my hair or flop a hand against me suddenly. Calming sleep measures like SMPA suggests are probably a good idea (for us too!).
posted by clavicle at 11:16 AM on March 22, 2011

2nding gloves in bed
posted by tehloki at 11:19 AM on March 22, 2011

I am a "lively sleeper" (to the point where I'm really not much fun to share a bed with, honestly). I jerk, I toss, I turn, I flail, the list goes on. I'm honestly not doing it to hurt my bed partners, I'm fast asleep! If your wife is asleep, she doesn't know she's gripping your arm.

Having her clip her nails shorter is a good idea. How about a body pillow barrier? If you're snugglers, you can snuggle until one of you falls asleep and then put a protective body pillow between you.

Or if you are NOT snugglers, a larger bed so you're not smashed up against one another might help.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:32 AM on March 22, 2011

She's dreaming. If you wake her up and ask her immediately when this happens you might be able to figure out what kinds of dreams these are, or if it's a repetitive dream, and that might be indicative of what is bothering her.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:50 PM on March 22, 2011

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