You’ve been there.

Your alarm goes off, you open your eyes to greet the morning, and you immediately sense that something is wrong.

When you try to move your arm, all you feel is dead weight or, worse, pins and needles. Have you ever wondered what is causing that sensation? Do you worry that it’s dangerous? Have no fear. Keep reading for the answers to all your questions about “sleeping” limbs.

Nerves, Nerves, and More Nerves

No one enjoys waking up and dealing with an arm or a leg that’s asleep. It can be painful and frustrating. Plus, it can totally ruin a good afternoon nap. While this condition may be annoying, it isn’t anything dangerous to your health.

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Our bodies have thousands of nerve endings that go from the tips of our toes up to the tops of our heads. Those nerves rely on blood flow to work properly. Without proper blood flow, nerves can’t send the right messages to our brains. If our nerves don’t get enough oxygen, crazy things can happen, just one of which is the phenomenon of a sleeping limb.

Sleep Tight

Drifting off to sleep can be an acrobatic feat for some. In a quest for comfort, people tuck their arms and legs under pillows or beneath the body. Then they proceed to stay that way for hours. The pressure restricts the free flow of blood, cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients your nerves need to communicate sensation to the brain.

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The scientific name for this feeling is paresthesia. During paresthesia, your nerves chaotically fire off messages to your brain. Because different types of nerves detect and relay various types of stimuli, your brain interprets these mixed messages as numbness, heat, pain, and that annoying prickly feeling.

Make It Stop!

To make paresthesia go away, you must release pressure on the limb so normal blood flow can resume. However, you’ll notice that when you initially start moving or shaking a limb to wake it up, the pain gets worse before it gets better.

That’s because the rush of fresh blood will cause another round of nerve misfiring. When this happens, don’t panic! After a few minutes, everything will settle down and function normally again. 

Things to Look Out For

Dealing with paresthesia when you wake up in the morning or after a nap is completely normal, but you should seek medical attention in certain situations. If you experience numbness or pins and needles without any warning, or if those sensations never really go away, you might have a pinched nerve. That’s a condition only medical professionals can diagnose and treat.

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Most importantly, you should always be aware of the signs and signals your body gives you. If something feels off or different from what you’re used to, check in with a professional. Meanwhile, just make sure your legs are completely awake before taking those first few steps in the morning!