Why Is My Arm Numb When I Wake Up?

Woman sleeps with her arm under her pillow

Sleeping with your arm under your head or body can result in numbness and tingling.

It’s common for people to wake up with numbness and tingling in their arm or hands. This is often due to sleeping with an arm beneath your body or head. When there is enough weight on your arm, it can compress nerves which results in numbness or tingling. This is often referred to as having one’s arm “fall asleep”.

Arm numbness is most common in side sleepers, as this position results in you lying on one arm. The median nerve, which runs the length of your arm, is compressed. Excessive compression can result in numbness.

If you’re sleeping on your side, and waking up with a numb arm, there are things you can do to help avoid the problem.

How can I avoid waking up with my arm numb?

A numb arm can result from the wrong pillow.

The wrong pillow can exacerbate nerve problems in your arm.

Be aware of your sleeping position. Are your head and neck being supported properly? Many people do not know that their pillow can have a significant impact on nerve compression in your arms. If your pillow is not supporting your head properly, nerve compression problems can become worse. Try using a pillow that is firm and thick enough to support your head and neck.

The firmness of your mattress also is a factor in your sleeping position and comfort. Since your body does not sink far into a firm mattress, your head is naturally higher off the surface of the bed, usually necessitating a firmer, thicker pillow.

Eliminating your arm numbness and tingling might be as simple as changing to a different pillow type, like a buckwheat pillow.

If a new pillow doesn’t resolve the issue you can try sleeping on your back. It’s not easy — I’ve tried it myself!

What should I do when I wake up with my arm numb?

Generally if you roll over to relieve the pressure, the numbness and tingling will quickly subside. Moving your hands and arm can help restore feeling in your arm after waking up. Experimenting with different pillows, mattresses and different sleeping positions can help you find relief. If you experience extreme numbness or pain, or numbness not related to sleeping on your arm, you should speak with your doctor to make sure it is not something more serious.