Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: What causes tingling hands at night?

Q. I wake up at night with pins and needles in one or both of my hands. I've tried chiropractic treatments, physical therapy, and a special pillow, with no success. What's causing this, and what can I do to stop it?

A. The likeliest cause of your symptoms is compression of one or both of the main nerves that supply feeling and function to your hands. These nerves—the median and ulnar nerves—run from the spinal cord at the neck all the way down to the hands. If they come under pressure at any point along the way, the arm or hand may feel as if it has "fallen asleep."

This is most likely to occur if you sit or lie with your hands in one position for a long time—a situation that's naturally most common during sleep. Certain conditions—for example, rheumatoid arthritis and hypothyroidism—can contribute to the symptoms you describe. So can heavy or repetitive work with your hands. Your symptoms could also be an early sign of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by pressure on the median nerve at the wrist.

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