Sleeping Positions for Carpal Tunnel (+ Proven Tips For a Better Sleep)

Sleep is essential in our daily function. Thanks to sleep, we can rejuvenate our bodies from our daily activities, repair and grow muscle, nerve, and bone. Put simply, sleep is one of the most important segments of our day.

Unfortunately, many people find it very challenging to get a good night’s sleep. Very often that’s because they feel pain in their hands and arms. They feel additional discomfort from their tingly and numb fingers.

If you have experienced those symptoms then you are probably looking at carpal tunnel syndrome. Below, we will discuss carpal tunnel syndrome and sleeping, why the symptoms get worse while we sleep, which sleeping positions to avoid to reduce those symptoms, and the best sleeping positions for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Why Does Carpal Tunnel Hurt More at Night?

Typically, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms worsen at night because of a poor distribution of tissue fluids within the arms. In other words, during the night there is no active muscle pump to properly distribute the tissue fluid. As a result, the surge of fluid tissue soars the carpal tunnel pressure.

“Typically, carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms worsen at night because of a poor distribution of tissue fluids within the arms.”

How we sleep has a massive impact on our carpal tunnel symptoms. The position of the wrist during sleep can have a massive impact on the carpal tunnel syndromes. In fact, several scientific studies have confirmed the link between how we sleep and carpal tunnel.

Before we get into the best sleeping positions for carpal tunnel syndrome, we need to learn which sleeping positions to avoid that can lead to restless nights and lack of sleep. Here are the sleep positions to avoid if you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome:

On your stomach

Bad sleeping position for carpal tunnel: woman sleeping on her stomach

By sleeping on your stomach you place immense pressure over your wrist. Plus, you add pressure on other areas such as the shoulder, elbow, spine, neck, and back.

Fetal position

Bad sleeping position for carpal tunnel: woman sleeping in fetal position

This position doesn’t provide any hip or back support and also negatively impacts nerve compression injuries at the cervical spine, the shoulder, and the elbow.

Proven Most Effective Sleeping Positions for Carpal Tunnel

The best sleeping positions for carpal tunnel syndrome are:

1. Sleeping on your back

Good sleeping position for carpal tunnel: woman sleeping on her back

By sleeping on your back, you avoid stressing out the cervical spine and reduce the risk of nerve pressure on the elbow, shoulder, and wrist. Propped up legs can also reduce the pressure on the lumbar spine.

2. Sleeping on your side

Good sleeping position for carpal tunnel: woman sleeping on her side and keeping quilt between her legs for more comfort

Those that prefer sleeping on the side need to make sure that they don’t fall into the fetal position.

Instead, it is recommended to gently hug a body pillow or a regular pillow to avoid getting into a fetal position which can only worsen their carpal tunnel syndromes.

Adding a pillow between the legs can provide spine alignment and great hip support. Plus, those that can only fall asleep on their side need to sleep on the side opposite of their offending arm. That way they don’t pressure the nerves on that arm and avoid aggravating the carpal tunnel symptoms.

Pro Tip: Sleep With Your Offended Arm Slightly Elevated

Find another pillow or something else that can help you keep your arm slightly elevated above your body.

By elevating the wrist you reduce the fluid pressure which is what causes the carpal tunnel symptoms to worsen during sleep.

So, no pressure, no symptoms, simple as that. In terms of position, you need to sleep on your back or the side opposite to the offending arm.

Pro tip: Sleep With Your Offended Arm Slightly Elevated (it helps to ease the Carpal Tunnel pain at night)

Will carpal tunnel brace help with good sleep?

A patient with a brace on the right hand

Almost all people tend to bend their wrists when they sleep. Consequently, the median nerve is pressured and carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms appear.

Wearing a brace can keep the wrist in a neutral, straight position. A scientific study that was conducted in 2012 revealed that wearing a wrist brace at night had a way more positive effect on carpal tunnel symptoms than not receiving any treatment at all.

Some people find it very beneficial to wear a brace even throughout the day, especially if their work includes repetitive wrist motions or added strain on the wrist that can make the carpel tunnel symptoms even more pronounced.

Wrist braces are sold in drug stores or you can ask for an occupational therapist to make you one. What matters most with a brace is to be snug, but at the same time not to be too tight. The snug mustn’t be tight and cause additional pressure on your damaged nerve which in fact can only worsen your carpal tunnel syndromes.

So, will wearing a bracelet help you to get a good night’s sleep? The answer is, it depends. It depends on how severe your carpal tunnel syndrome condition is.

Folks with mild to moderate condition report that wearing a bracelet does help them in dealing with the symptoms of carpal tunnel. According to them, thanks to the bracelet, their symptoms last way shorter than before.

At the same time, they also suggest that finding the best possible bracelet is crucial in elevating the symptoms of carpal tunnel.

They also take note that you can’t expect results overnight. One needs to be patient as the first signs of relief can come three or four weeks later. 

How to sleep with a carpal tunnel brace?

The brace needs to cover the wrist so that it can keep it in a neutral position. Always consider how your arms are positioned while you sleep. Sleeping with arms underneath your pillow or underneath you can only make your carpal tunnel even worse.

As we discussed earlier, propping the pillow while you sleep can reduce both pain and tension. To that end, you can experiment with the height of the pillow. You can try several height positions before determining the one that feels most comfortable.

Bending your elbow while sleeping can also add pressure on your damaged nerve and make the symptoms worse than before. Because of that, try not to bend your elbow while sleeping.

Instead, try to fall asleep with your arm straight. You can even try wrapping a small towel around your arm so that you can’t bend it once you fall asleep.

Related article: Can carpal tunnel cause neck pain?

Carpal Tunnel Pain Relief at Night

a woman sitting on the bed, holding a pill and drinking water

Some people use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to get some relief from the swelling and pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome (NSAIDs). They can be bought over the counter at almost all drug stores. Some of the most common ones are Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and Aspirin.

However, keep in mind that even though these drugs can give you a short-time relief, they won’t cure your carpal tunnel. 

Best Way to Sleep With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Everything that we’ve discussed so far can help you mitigate carpal tunnel symptoms during sleeping at night. However, you are not limited only to fixing your sleeping position, wearing a wrist brace, propping your arm, and drugs. There are several other things you can do that can help you with your carpal tunnel syndrome.

Here’s what else you can do to get some relief.

Soaking in a salt bath

Soaking in a salt bath can help you get the blood flowing which can relax you. Salt baths are helpful because of the magnesium in the salt.

Magnesium is known for its anti-inflammatory properties which act as natural muscle relaxants.

Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin. That is why soaking in a salt bath is recommended for treating carpal tunnel symptoms. Additionally, magnesium is an excellent sleep aid.

If you had trouble sleeping away before your carpal tunnel issues, then your body might have been deficient in magnesium. In any case, soaking in a salt bath can bring only good in many ways and can treat multiple conditions simultaneously. 

Sleep in a warm room

Sleeping in a cold room can irritate the nerves in the wrist. That’s because the cold can slow down the blood flow in the arms which in fact causes pressure on the nerves. So, instead of bunking in a cold room, you either start sleeping in a warmer room or warm up the room where you are sleeping.

Apply heat and cold on your wrists

This is recommended an hour before going to bed. Apply heat and cold on the offending arm every fifteen minutes.

First apply heat for fifteen minutes, then replace it with some ice for fifteen minutes.

Repeat that two or three times before going to bed.

That can reduce the swelling from the carpal tunnel and will get the fluids moving further from the tissue. That way the tissue applies less pressure on your median nerve.

The purpose of the cold is to draw the blood further from the tissue, whereas the heat can bring back the blood to the surface. By limiting the fluid the pressure on the nerve will be significantly reduced. 

Self – massage

A hand therapist can show you how to massage your wrist and your hand so that you get some relief from your carpal tunnel condition. What matters most is that you do your massages exactly as instructed.

Self-massage is usually recommended between professional massage sessions, but you can do it before going to bed. It is a proven method with great results, as reported by many people suffering from carpal tunnel.

Self-massage with regular massage therapy from a hand therapist is known to produce amazing results. So, you need to consider that as well. You can even try cupping or acupuncture if nothing else works for you.

Go easy on your wrist

That means avoiding anything that can alleviate your carpal tunnel symptoms. If you can’t stop doing some activities then find a way to decrease the strain on your wrists.

Avoid forceful grasping, typing, sewing, or even playing video games. Don’t use any power tools unless you must, especially vibrating power tools.

As far as exercises, restrain yourself from doing any push-ups because by doing so you put the heel of your palm under immense pressure. 

What if Nothing Else Works?

If you still can’t sleep at night because of the pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, you need to decide on another, a more aggressive treatment plan with your physician.

Usually, that means having surgery. Surgery is the last resort, but sometimes cannot be avoided, especially if nothing else helps and you can’t live your life normally anymore because of your symptoms.

Before the operation, you can consider using injections to get some pain relief. Some of the most common ones are steroid and botox injections. But they are just temporary and not a permanent fix to your carpal tunnel syndrome.

When you agree with your physician that there is no other way but a surgery, you will be explained what to expect from the procedure.

Your physician will explain to you that there are two types of surgeries. In both surgeries, the surgeon will need to cut through the tissue that surrounds the median nerve. The idea is to release the pressure.

One of the surgeries includes a two-inch long incision, whereas the other one is done with two smaller incisions. The second surgery usually is followed by a faster recovery time.

The recovery time can vary from patient to patient and can take up to several months. As far as any relief of the symptoms, very often that’s immediately after the surgery is completed.  

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Early prevention is the best course of action when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you notice any symptoms, try to remedy the issue naturally. The best course of action is to figure out a plan of action in coordination with your physician.

That’s the way to avoid further escalation of your symptoms or even to be needing surgery. Armed with the knowledge acquired here and with the assistance of your physician, you will find your way out of this troublesome condition.

Just don’t make the mistake that many people make, don’t underestimate carpal tunnel. It might not be a life-threatening condition, but one that can cause serious pain and drastically change your lifestyle.

Disclaimer: This site does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor.

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