How to stop hurting myself in my sleep?
June 29, 2022 6:41 AM   Subscribe

While I'm asleep, I seem to be doing things with my hands that cause me pain when I'm awake. Balling my hands into fists, grabbing things (like pillows), sleeping on my hands. I wake up with my hands stiff and sore. This is starting to cause pain during my waking life. How to stop doing these things?

I started to notice maybe a year ago that my hands would be stiff and sore when I woke up. This got gradually worse, to where sometimes grabbing certain kinds of large doorknobs would hurt. Now I'm feeling pain in my hands during the day (like when I'm typing). Since I'm in my 40s and have spent the last 20+ years working with computers, it's possible I have some sort of carpal tunnel and this is just exacerbating it.

Things I think I'm doing in my sleep :
* Balling my hands into fists
* Grabbing pillows
* Grabbing my leg
* Sleeping on my hands (sleeping on my side, with my hands between my legs (but not near my crotch or anything like that))

I'm not sure why I'm doing these things in my sleep, or why or when it started. It might be due to anxiety, but I've always had anxiety so I don't know if it's related.

How can I stop doing these things in my sleep? My hands hurt!

(and yes, I have an appointment coming up with a physiatrist to look into the possibility carpal tunnel / RSI)
posted by Sloop John B to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I sometimes wear a basic drugstore wrist brace when I sleep, and it helps with the sort of things you list, it keeps the wrist in a neutral position and makes it uncomfortable to sleep on. My doctor told me to get it for wrist tendinitis. Cheap and unlikely to hurt! The Velcro on mine snagged my pillowcases, now I put a sock over it.
posted by momus_window at 6:48 AM on June 29, 2022 [13 favorites]

I have problems with loss of sensation/pain in my hands when I sleep; it seems to be more a shoulder or neck impingement rather than carpal tunnel, I've decided, because it seems to result from certain ways I lie rather than wrist issues (which I also have) because the brace doesn't work to reduce the problem. Experimenting with pillows and positions helped). also suspect I'm developing arthritis, which tends to be worse for most people in the morning, in which case warming up helps.
posted by Peach at 6:51 AM on June 29, 2022

I have mild arthritis in a bunch of joints and I find they hurt more in the morning if I’m dehydrated- drinking more water might help.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2022

Seconding the wrist brace idea. I was having similar issues (and waking up with both hands completely asleep!), and the wrist braces were enough to stop me from doing it. After a while, I had retrained my brain and was able to sleep without them.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:10 AM on June 29, 2022

I went through a terrible phase of this, and stress/anxiety were certainly a contributing factor but I reached the point where I was waking up with numb hands that stayed that way for sometimes an hour or two. I completely randomly learned about Thoracic Outlet Syndrome while this was going on, talked to my physical therapist, learned some stretches, did a little bit of pillow improvement to ensure my neck was being fully supported when I sleep, and now if I'm mindful of my device-holding posture and remember to do my stretches occasionally I'm fine.

I had assumed it was a recurrence of CTS even though I haven't had a flare for years and this didn't feel bad in the same way my CTS felt bad.

Bob & Brad on Signs of TOS, Stretches for TOS. AskDoctorJo on more stretches.

I absolutely must sleep with a body pillow or I will have neck-shoulder-arm-hand troubles all over the place. One of my improvements this time was moving to an absolutely ginormous amazing soft body pillow, the body pillow I've been searching for my whole life. I already had a Pillow Cube Pro that had helped some (and just recently my PT suggested I cram a cervical roll into my pillowcase because I have a stress habit of sleeping with my chin pressed hard into my chest and the roll tends to create a sort of speed bump that stops me doing that).

Do talk to your doctor, don't be shocked if they aren't up on TOS - they ought to change the name to something like Device Clutching Syndrome - and ask them to research before definitively diagnosing CTS.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:12 AM on June 29, 2022 [6 favorites]

Hi! I asked a similar question a few years back about balling my hands into fists while I slept. The answers were all great. For me the root cause was anxiety, which now comes and goes. When it comes, I go back to my dollar-store gloves with the old socks sewn into the palms trick and my hands are much better in the morning.

(of course do see a doctor if things don't improve)
posted by kimberussell at 8:01 AM on June 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

I've had this problem. I find that if I rest each hand loosely around the opposite arm in a sort of folded-arms way, then I don't get the pain. I sleep on my side, so I don't know how if that would work for other sleeping styles.
posted by pipeski at 8:44 AM on June 29, 2022

Might want to see your regular doctor in addition to the physio. I can speculate of a few other things that might be going on with one's body that could manifest in the ways you describe. But I'm just a guy on the internet with no medical training. So ... Doctor. Bloodwork.

FWIW, TOS is notoriously difficult to diagnose. I (who historically has done a lot of intense painful arm and hand curling while sleeping) had two doctors say I might have it, and was sent off for a bunch of tests, and even thought the tests came back negative for ToS, they said that did't 100% rule it out. And then I had another test (EMG and nerve conduction) that revealed I've got carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome (ulnar nerve problems at or near the elbow).

Also, do you have any neck problems? How's your posture? Could be contributing factors. The nerve branches that serve your arms and hands exit from the neck vertebrae. I have found that doing PT for my neck and upper back has helped (but not eliminated) problems with my hands. If you've spent many years in front a computer, chances are you might have some alignment issues in your upper body and neck. A PT has seen that movie a hundred times and can help with this

The splint recommendations are great. You might also consider elbow braces as well as wrist.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 9:08 AM on June 29, 2022

Try sleeping on your side and put a pillow in front of your chest on which to rest your top arm. Try to keep both elbows mostly straight and straighten them whenever you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re lucid enough to remember.

Bonus comfort when sleeping on your side: pillows between your legs to keep your top leg, knee, and ankle in line with your top hip.
posted by rodneyaug at 9:55 AM on June 29, 2022

More than a wrist brace, I'd recomment a resting night splint. Wrist braces are generally designed to leave your hand as functional as possible. Night splints aren't, so they also help block hand movements that can also cause daytime pain, which it sounds like are part of your problem
posted by DebetEsse at 10:59 AM on June 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have similar issues and do best if I can manage to sleep on my back, which does not come naturally to me. I've found a heavy weighted blanked helps in that regard, and kind of provides the hugging sensation that all the balling up and clutching seems to be aiming for.

Aside from stretches, relaxation and muscle relaxation exercises can also help.

I also take magnesium at night as a mild muscle relaxant - not sure how much difference it makes, but it might be worth a try.
posted by trig at 2:31 PM on June 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

I would also recommend visiting a regular Dr, as there are systemic conditions that can cause these sorts of joint complaints, not just overuse style injuries.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 8:46 PM on June 29, 2022

I had a lot of this. It eventually went away after I got accustomed to beginning antidepressents.

After medication, I recognize better that I had 'generalized anxiety disorder' and "sleeping" circus-acts caused a lot of actual physical pain.

I started on Mirtazapine and it was a great first step - sleep was soooo much better despite the weird-assed dreams, but I had a rare substantial side effect (muscle-use-dependent edema) and went to sertraline (Zoloft) which completely blasted away my GAD and after-sleep soreness.

Switched off of sertraline to vortioxetine and it's as good for the depression but substantially less good for GAD and the morning soreness came back (and augmentation of a calcific tendonitic issue in shoulders) - I've started adding a little buspirone (bupropion gives me severe physical anxiety) for the anxiety.

You may certainly have different responses, but sertraline completely solved this for me after a week or two, with progressive improvement starting close to the latter end of the second week.
posted by porpoise at 1:28 AM on June 30, 2022

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