Daily Thoughts Medical and Science

What Causes Arms and Legs to Fall Asleep

Arms and Legs falling asleep

Photo by [TheresaOtero] morgueFile

Have you ever been sitting for a while with your leg crossed over your knee enjoying a movie. Then you need to get up and refresh your popcorn bowl.

So you jump up real quick and BAMB! You can’t walk! Your leg is totally asleep and you nearly twist your ankle trying to stand. You cripple around for five minutes shaking your foot hoping and praying the feeling will soon return before your date notices.

Then eventually the feeling slowing returns to your leg and you’re free to roam into the kitchen to pop that popcorn.

But why does this happen to us? Are we cursed by the lazy monster that is punishing us for trying to relax?

The Horrific Symptoms

Well we’ve already gone over one such scenario of a leg falling asleep. But another one that happens to me quite often happens while I’m actually asleep.

Some times when I sleep I will have my arm under my pillow slightly raised above shoulder height. Then when I wake my arm is totally asleep. It feels like I have a large sausage strapped to my shoulder with absolutely no feeling in it what so ever.

I physically have to pick up my arm with my “working” arm in order to move it from under my pillow, so I can allow it to regain feeling.

Of course this is a disgusting way to wake up and is quite scary, almost feels like it’s dead and could fall off…lol

One Popular Theory

One popular theory as to why our arms and legs fall asleep is circulation. This is actually what I believed to be the culprit for a long, long time.

The theory is, that when the circulation is cut off from flowing through a limb on our body, it “falls asleep.” Sounds logical and made perfect sense to me. Until I found out the real reason this happens.

Why Arms and Legs Really Fall Asleep

The real reason this oddity happens to us, when we least expect it, is nerves. That’s right, nerves, and I’m not talking about the kind of nerves that happen when the bills are piling up.

Your body is full of tiny nerves that traverse every inch of your body. When one of those nerves gets pinched, such as the ones in your elbows, then the limb attached may experience this sleep phenomenon.

Some of these tiny nerves are very close to the skins surface. When you press or lean that part of your body up against, lets say, a kitchen table or desk, for a prolonged period of time, a sleeping limb can happen.

The reason this happens is the nerve impulses aren’t able to travel back and forth to your brain.

Normally the feeling will return pretty quickly once you move or reposition your arm or leg and the impulses are able to flow freely again. But in extreme cases, the nerve may become pinched and stay that way for a long time.

This normally occurs when people work long days at a desk and lean their arms on it for hours every day. The “dead arm” has been known to hang around for days or even weeks in these extreme instances.

How to Avoid the Sleeping Arm or Leg

There really isn’t a perfect solution for preventing the “stick arm”, or “salami leg”. Just be aware of where you’re putting your goodies and try to avoid sharp edges or anything that could potentially cause you to be in the same position for long periods of time.

Otherwise it sure is fun to watch someone while they’re trying to regain function of their body parts. And don’t feel bad for laughing, because there isn’t any super serious, long term problems that can form because of it.

If you’ve had a super embarrassing moment of an arm or leg falling asleep on you. Or if you’ve witnessed a hilarious incident of this happening to someone you know. Please share your story with us in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “What Causes Arms and Legs to Fall Asleep
  1. Hi Robert,

    I never knew the reason behind this until now. But what do you think is the purpose of ‘limbs falling asleep’, i don’t it offering any benefits in case of any trauma?

    1. To tell you the truth Hugh, I’m not sure there is a beneficial purpose for limbs falling asleep. But if there was, the only thing I could imagine, is it’s our bodies way of telling us, “Hey, you’re doing something you should be!” 🙂

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