Why is my arm falling asleep at night and waking me up in pain?
October 6, 2014 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I developed a really bad case of pregnancy induced carpal tunnel. It mostly went away after my son's birth, but my arms are still waking me up at night. See details for oddities.

When I was pregnant 3+ years ago, I developed a really bad case of pregnancy induced carpal tunnel. It was so bad that I wore braces on both hands at night (which was a joke, btw) and I would wake up crying 3 or 4 times a night. My husband would wake up and run my hands and arms until I would go back to sleep.

By the end of my pregnancy, the tips of my fingers were all pretty much completely numb. The sensation was GONE. They never fully returned to normal until my son was about 4 months old.

Now, my son is 3, and I am still experiencing numbness in my hands/arms waking me up at night. Not as painful and certainly not as often, and I have found that hanging my arm by the shoulder totally off the bed helps the feeling come back relatively quickly.

Some things I'm considering to be the cause: Before pregnancy, I was a back-only sleeper. I slept flat on my back, with a pillow over my head and not under. (A+ for weirdness). During pregnancy, of course I could no longer sleep on my back, so I started sleeping on my sides. Now, post-pregnancy, I sleep pretty much exclusively on my side or stomach. Could the change in sleeping position preference be causing the numbness as well?

Am I crazy or is this an issue that stomach/side sleepers also experience on occasion? Should I mention this to my primary care?
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You're not crazy, and yes, mention this to your doctor. I have had similar issues but not as bad as you. Side or stomach sleeping makes it harder for blood to circulate to your fingers because your arms are usually under you or in a weird position. Sometimes I wish I could drill holes in my mattress so my arms could hang down when I sleep on my stomach. I find that doing yoga regularly helps a lot with my wrist/hand issues because it increases circulation.
posted by chickenmagazine at 10:26 AM on October 6, 2014

Just anecdata, but I'm a side sleeper who loses feeling totally in his hands when I sleep wrong. I have to position myself just so in order to wake up and be able to pick things up.
posted by xingcat at 10:27 AM on October 6, 2014

I (side sleeper, never had children) will always get this if my pillow game is not very nearly perfect. When you lay on your side, you need enough pillow under your head that your spine is normal-shaped (so your head isn't dipping down), and among other things you're not hunching your shoulders to lower yourself to the pillow. I have a carefully-crafted stack.

The other thing I do - even sleeping with a body pillow - is fist up my hands and clench my upper arms tight to my sides, which I think also does not help. I am working on training myself out of that, and probably need a new fluffier body pillow to help.

I actually find in hotels with firmer mattresses that this is *less* of a problem. My mattress is fine but has a thick layer of foam and pillow on top, and I think that is making the situation worse by being too squishy.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2014

Another side-sleeper here. When I curl my hands up under my chin to sleep, I get CTS pretty bad. As long as I straighten my wrists out, usually by putting my hands under the pillow, I have no problem.
posted by DrGail at 10:45 AM on October 6, 2014

Thank you guys for making me feel a lot less crazy! I never had this issue before my sleeping position habits changed, and I was hoping I wasn't the only one. When I mention this to my husband (who is also a side/stomach sleeper) he doesn't have this issue.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 10:48 AM on October 6, 2014

When I curl my hands up under my chin to sleep, I get CTS pretty bad. As long as I straighten my wrists out, usually by putting my hands under the pillow, I have no problem.

Me, too. This is why the braces I wore at night helped. They just kept my wrists straight, which was all I needed.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:55 AM on October 6, 2014

This sound painful an awful. I wonder if seeing a physical therapist would help?
posted by radioamy at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2014

Side sleeping can also complicate Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which can have many CTS-like symptoms. Training yourself out of side sleeping may help. I also feel better when I'm very careful about joints being in a neutral position as I'm falling asleep.
posted by quince at 11:26 AM on October 6, 2014

1. Try the falcoln position. I put a pillow under half of my chest also.

2. Which fingers? Thumb through ring is median nerve, ring and pinky is ulnar nerve. If it's the median nerve, the issue is probably the position of your wrists or chest, ulnar is probably your elbows.

Long-term, work on your posture by strengthening your back with resistance training (rows, face pulls, deadlifts, pullups, etc.), stretching your pecs, and mobilizing your scapulae. This is something you'd have to get a little obsessed with to see results probably. Another modality that might help would be yoga.
posted by callmejay at 11:49 AM on October 6, 2014

I am a side sleeper and this happens to me too. Pillow position and wearing a wrist brace were the only things that helped me with this. Every once in a while I'll forget to wear my brace or I'll move my arm into a weird position while I'm asleep and I'll wake up with the numbness/tingling too.
posted by bedhead at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2014

Have you had your thyroid checked? Hypothyroid can cause joint pain.
posted by MadMadam at 12:38 PM on October 6, 2014

Another side-sleeper here. I asked this question previously, which might give you some ideas of what to do with your hands/arms.
posted by sarajane at 12:39 PM on October 6, 2014

Thank you so much SaraJane!
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 1:30 PM on October 6, 2014

I saw a doctor about this recently. He recommended (for me, not you, obvs) elbow braces to keep me from folding my elbows under my head when side-sleeping, and 50mg of Vitamin B6 3 times a day, which I guess is helpful for carpal tunnel.
posted by Ollie at 4:59 PM on October 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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