The Real Reason Your Hands Fall Asleep

It is one of the most irritating and even bewildering sensations: Your hands have fallen asleep. They may be numb or even tingling. This phenomenon, formally called paresthesia, may happen when you first wake up, which is understandable if your head was putting pressure on your arms while you were sleeping. The nerves were simply being compressed, leading to a temporary loss of function.

"The nerves are not happy," Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote for Harvard Health. Generally, the sensation will dissipate a few moments after the pressure is removed. It is nothing to worry about — you can then resume normal activities and go about your day as if nothing happened.

But is that all there is to it? This may be a fleeting phenomenon that affects pretty much everyone at some point, but is it ever anything to worry about? Usually, no, but there are some conditions that cause numb hands.

If your hands constantly feel numb, you could have one of these conditions

"Peripheral neuropathy" may be a term you've never heard before, but it is a condition with which over 20 million Americans are intimately familiar (via WebMD). This term applies to "the conditions that result when nerves that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord from and to the rest of the body are damaged or diseased," per WebMD.

Potential causes of peripheral neuropathy range from medications or vitamin deficiencies to medical conditions such as herpes. Among the most common sources of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes; however, if you experience diabetic neuropathy, the symptoms are more likely to develop in the feet and spread upwards through your legs before reaching the hands and arms. This can be the first symptom of diabetes for many patients (via WebMD).

Peripheral neuropathy can have causes that are very serious, and if left untreated, it can potentially become debilitating. Again, occasional and momentary numbness of the hands is typically nothing to worry about. However, if the numbness is constant or impairs your ability to perform simple tasks such as holding onto things, Dr. Robert H. Shmerling recommends consulting your doctor (via Harvard Health).