Icy hands... of death?
December 27, 2011 4:25 PM   Subscribe

My fingers fall asleep while I'm sleeping. Is this bad? Should I see a doctor?

I've noticed that my fingers were asleep a couple of times when I woke up this winter. I wasn't cold, although my hands were, and they were resting on top of my stomach, so there wasn't pressure from that. My hands were under my blankets and woke up soon after I did. Last night this also happened while I was sleeping sitting up on an airplane. It only seems to happen to my right hand.

I probably have Raynaud's - one or more of my fingers on either hand will turn spooky white if my hands get cold, and about once a year I forget my gloves and get little bumps that I think are mild chillblains. My hands are often cold at room temperature even though the rest of me feels fine. I never saw a doctor about Raynaud's because I manage it pretty well and didn't think there was anything additional a doc could do.

Is this likely to be a symptom of something more sinister / should I get it checked out? I'm otherwise in good health, normal blood pressure, get plenty of exercise, healthy cholesterol and thyroid levels, low iron but not anemic. I'm an early-30s woman with okayish student health coverage.
posted by momus_window to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Datapoint: I've had Raynaud's at about the same level as you (self-managed) and I started having the hands falling asleep problem when I got pregnant. It went away after I gave birth. Any chance you're pregnant?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:30 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not pregnant, got a hormonal IUD this summer if that's relevant.
posted by momus_window at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2011

Any time you have a strange symptom the best course is to at least mention it to your doctor. There are other things that you may not be revealing here which, taken in context, may make perfect sense when taken in context with you and your own unique situation.
posted by brownrd at 4:53 PM on December 27, 2011

IANAD. Mention it to your doctor at next visit.

I have some ulnar nerve issues myself, especially in my right hand. I tend to sleep on my right hand an arm frequently and will wake up after I've moved (the pins and needles feeling is much worse when you wake up to it). The question that was asked first by my doctor was which fingers were numb?

Ulnar nerve is usually small finger (pinky) and half of the ring finger. Carpal tunnel (I win here, too) is usually thumb and index finger.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:07 PM on December 27, 2011

When this happened to me I went to the doctor (which I recommend you do) and it turned out to be carpal tunnel syndrome. What has helped the most is wearing a wrist splint like this one when I sleep.
posted by gudrun at 5:08 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's worth getting checked out even if you suspect it's Raynaud's Disease because it could be symptom of another underlying condition and actually be Raynaud's Phenomenon. Iron deficiency could be the culprit too so it be worth getting your iron levels checked to be on the safe side.

didn't think there was anything additional a doc could do.

If it's on the mild side? Nope. Will probably tell you to reduce stress and nix the caffeine and nicotine, but if its exceptionally painful and/or attacks are frequent there are medications you can use to reduce the symptoms.
posted by squeak at 5:10 PM on December 27, 2011

When I was diagnosed with (extremely mild) Raynaud's, they ran a whole auto-immune panel on me, because Raynaud's comes hand in hand with so many auto-immune diseases (I didn't have anything unexpected pop up). I do notice that when my thyroid deficiency is acting up, though, my extremities fall sleep much more easily and are MUCH colder than usual. I feel like everyone, including me, is very prone to being like, "IT COULD BE A THYROID PROBLEM" but it seriously might be, so can't hurt to get it checked.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 5:14 PM on December 27, 2011

Thoracic outlet syndrome causes numbness in the hands, and interestingly, in light of rabbitrabbit's answer, may be associated with pregnancy:

In general, the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is compression of the nerves and blood vessels in the thoracic outlet, just under your collarbone (clavicle). The cause of the compression varies and can include:
* Pregnancy. Because joints loosen during pregnancy, signs of thoracic outlet syndrome may first appear while you're pregnant.

And the only hormonal IUD currently available, Mirena, does use a progesterone-like hormone:

Although use of IntraUterine Systems results in much lower systemic progestogen levels than other very-low-dose progestogen-only hormonal contraceptives, they might possibly have some of the same side effects.

Thoracic outlet syndrome may also manifest as Raynaud's.
posted by jamjam at 6:22 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have this happen frequently when I've been shoveling snow, or working in a static position (chair syndrome) for too long without a break. For me, when I get numb icy cold hands at night, it's nothing to do with Reynaud's, and always a sign I need to book a good deep tissue massage. It's stiff muscles in my shoulders/neck, no more.

also, if I could get everyone off the wrist splint / carpal tunnel "surgery" train, I would.

Carpal tunnel is not in your wrist!
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:03 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

This used to happen to me frequently. I went all ergonomic for my computer activities and it stopped. YMMV.
posted by kamikazegopher at 9:06 PM on December 27, 2011

When this happened to me I went to the doctor (which I recommend you do) and it turned out to be carpal tunnel syndrome. What has helped the most is wearing a wrist splint like this one when I sleep.

Same here.
posted by theredpen at 4:55 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I carry tension in my shoulders / have an old shoulder injury that's been acting up, so I'll re-start the stretches from my PT and maybe get around to finding a better office chair and a footrest.

It sounds like it's not an urgent thing but I'll see a doc next term if it doesn't go away soon. Thanks all!
posted by momus_window at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2011

Here's a weird possibility: Olive oil.
A study by Dr. Robert Vogel in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that olive oil significantly reduces blood flow to different parts of your body, whereas canola oil and salmon do not. This measure of blood flow, called flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD), is a standard, well-accepted test by the American Heart Association and others. In this study, blood flow (FMD) was reduced by 31% after an olive-oil meal but was not reduced by a meal with a similar amount of fat from canola oil or salmon, probably due to the higher content of the protective omega-3 fatty acids in canola oil and salmon.
posted by NortonDC at 8:28 PM on December 28, 2011

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