On Pins and Needles
March 28, 2004 4:44 PM   Subscribe

Occasionally, when I sleep, I stick my arm under my pillow and rest my head on it (a leftover habit from having it in a cast years ago). I've gotten used to the confusion of having a numb, dead arm for a few minutes in the morning, but what's bothering me lately is something I remembered hearing a while back - which is that if you cut off circulation to a limb (put it to 'sleep') for long enough it can 'fall off' or suffer a similarly nasty fate.

So, can any sort of permanent, horrible damage result from what I'm doing, or is this just bunk?
posted by Monster_Zero to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)
 
Relax, chief. Almost certainly, you're not cutting off circulation, the blood continues to flow. What you've done is compressed a nerve, probably the ulnar nerve that goes through your elbow (the funny bone). Neuraplaxia is the term for this. There's a danger that if you do it hard enough or long enough, you get a pinched nerve that may take a few days or weeks to heal, but you'd have to do some serious compression to cut off the blood supply and cause gangrene.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:30 PM on March 28, 2004


I try to avoid laying on my limbs (though it inevitably happens) because it obviously reduces the bloodflow somewhat (though the numbness/tingliness is more than often crushed nerves, not blood vessels). I'd rather not have even a few thousand cells die unnecessarily, but that's me.
posted by abcde at 5:55 PM on March 28, 2004


And old friend of my partner got drunk and passed out on his side for a day or two. He got gangrene, and almost lost his arm. There was a lot of scarring, and muscle damage.

Be careful.
posted by Jairus at 5:59 PM on March 28, 2004


This happens to me pratically every night. You mean I might be risking GANGRENE?? How many days exactly was your pal passed out for?
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:21 PM on March 28, 2004


YHBT. YHL. HTH.
posted by keswick at 6:28 PM on March 28, 2004


As I understand it, and I am not a doctor, if you are in a natural state of sleep and cause a serious circulation problem by compressing blood vessels with your own body weight, your brain is smart enough to force you to roll over or change position. Sleeping on a limb is only really dangerous when you take something or drink too much and your natural feedback systems (ie, pain) are inhibited by the new drugs in your brain. Again, I am so not a doctor, but it makes sense to me.

After all, if this were a serious problem, you'd probably see more people running around with fewer limbs because they are heavy sleeps.
posted by mmcg at 6:29 PM on March 28, 2004


CunningLinguist: He wasn't exactly sure. He was, after all, pretty drunk.
posted by Jairus at 6:33 PM on March 28, 2004


Or, rather, "sleepers." Yeah, don't take my advice, I can't even type. Hey, why am I missing two fingers?
posted by mmcg at 6:38 PM on March 28, 2004


As I understand it, and I am not a doctor, if you are in a natural state of sleep and cause a serious circulation problem by compressing blood vessels with your own body weight, your brain is smart enough to force you to roll over or change position. Sleeping on a limb is only really dangerous when you take something or drink too much and your natural feedback systems (ie, pain) are inhibited by the new drugs in your brain. Again, I am so not a doctor, but it makes sense to me.

Yeah, that's pretty much how it works, as far as I know. Because I'm usually a light sleeper I find that if my arm goes "dead" on me I usually wake up, as opposed to just rolling over and going back to sleep--or, at any rate, I wake up sometimes and don't know how often I just roll over since I'm sleeping.

But yeah, unless you've taken something there's not much to worry about.

Disclaimer: IANASDNDIPTBOUITIAG.
posted by The God Complex at 7:09 PM on March 28, 2004


Disclaimer: This advice is not from a doctor. Do not take it as such. Sue no one.

Ever wonder if you could hold your breath to kill yourself? You can't. Eventually, you would pass out, and your body would resume its normal breathing functions.

It is a similar thing here. If you are laying in a condition that causes pains, your body will react by telling itself to turn, twist, or move into another direction.

As for myself, I usually get spasms at night when I am sleeping in a position my body doesn't like.
posted by benjh at 7:11 PM on March 28, 2004


If you get so fucked-up you fall unconscious for "a day or two", then the nature of your problems go beyond the parameters of this question (that is if anyone accepts anything from that sketchy anecdote. How many of us know that friend of a friend acid kid who "thought he was a cup of orange juice"?). Monster Zero your arms are going to be fine.
posted by dgaicun at 7:57 PM on March 28, 2004


dgaicun: If you want to call me a liar, my email address is on my profile. It happened.

Monster_Zero: Unless you're in some kind of condition where your natural self-defence mechanisms are dulled (drunk, on sleeping pills, etc), you're almost certainly going to be fine. My post was meant to illustrate the fact that yes, it does happen that people cut off circulation, it's not an urban legend.
posted by Jairus at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2004


Hasn't this happened to a rock star or two? It happens to me occasionally, that I'll wake up in the middle of the night with absolutely no feeling in my arm. Just for fun, I'll reach over with my other hand and lift up the dead limb and release it. Smack! It falls like a dead weight. I continue to do it until I can stop it from succumbing to gravity.
posted by vito90 at 9:25 PM on March 28, 2004


True story: I once fell asleep face-down in a crossed-arms, crossed-legs position. Both my arms and my legs fell asleep.

When I awoke, I wasn't aware of this fact. So when I rolled over, my arm went flying out, then collapsed so that I punched myself in the face. I struggled to sit up (no easy task, armless on a waterbed) and then stand.

I was still entirely unaware my legs were asleep. I got two steps before they buckled. I started falling. My arms didn't work. I accelerated. My arms refused to do anything at all. I landed face-first on the floor.

I lay there while my legs and arms both tingled like mad as they came back to life.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:29 PM on March 28, 2004


Hooray! I get to keep my arms! Thanks very much for all your responses!
posted by Monster_Zero at 10:07 PM on March 28, 2004


A former colleague of mine once related to me how, one night, having slept on his arm long enough that it went numb, he rolled over in his sleep in such a way that his 'dead' hand came to rest on his neck, at which point he woke up, into a state of immediate panic, thinking he was being strangled…
posted by misteraitch at 11:34 PM on March 28, 2004


Yeah, sounds far-fetched. I've been sleeping in the position you described since I was old enough to sleep in a bed, and I've still got all my limbs.
posted by tomorama at 12:51 AM on March 29, 2004


Hasn't this happened to a rock star or two?
One was the lead singer from Sparklehorse. (Ctrl+F for 'England'). I sleep on my left arm every night and am OK, but I think I'll miss out on the 14-hour drug induced coma, just to be on the safe side.
posted by punilux at 3:15 AM on March 29, 2004


2 Christmases ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with an urgent bladder-related need. I didnt realize it at the time, but my right leg was asleep from the hip down. I stood up, took a step forward with my left leg, and then with my right. Once my right foot hit the floor, I began to fall forward. As I flailed about on the way down, I caught the index and pointer fingers of my right hand on the doorjamb as I fell, and dislocated them both where the finger bones meet the mass of small bones that makes up your hand (as an aside, are there particular names for those particular knuckle joints? any knuckle joints? all of them?).

The agony caused me to scream like a wounded animal. However, it was nothing compared to a moment later when I slapped the back of my hand into the wall on the other side of the doorway and popped them both back into their correct position [yeah, I DO writhe around on the floor while screaming like a wounded animal - what of it?]

end result: I still have a bone spur on the one knuckle, and have only recently gotten full motion and strength back in those two fingers. Also, now when I wake up in the middle of the night, I sit upright in bed and wait for a minute or two before going anywhere. Go ahead and laugh, but on at least on occasion, I have discovered another leg that's trying to kill me by having been asleep while I was sleeping.
posted by Irontom at 4:25 AM on March 29, 2004


FFF - that was absolutely hilarious. Thank you.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:20 AM on March 29, 2004


yeah when i was a kid i slept on my arm once and my awake arm touched my asleep arm and i jumped up yelling and slapped myself in the chest . funny.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 9:39 AM on March 29, 2004


Art Kleiner has an article on suicide. In it he describes individuals who took pills, passed out, did major nerve damage, woke up, and decided they didn't want to die after all.

I've heard that sleeping in briefs rather than boxers may cause your manly unit to drop off.
posted by mecran01 at 1:04 PM on March 29, 2004


benjh, doing that can be fatal. It's definately not advisable.
posted by shepd at 1:40 PM on March 29, 2004


I can't believe nobody asked what IANASDNDIPTBOUITIAG means.
posted by The God Complex at 12:14 AM on March 30, 2004


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