You've probably experienced it at one time or another -- that annoying feeling of prickly pins and needles that happens after your foot, arm or leg "falls asleep." The technical term for this sensation is paresthesia. It happens when nerves once again begin receiving messages from your brain after a period of time. If you sleep wrong or spend too much time in the same, restrictive position, you might experience paresthesia.
Why Pins and Needles?
The pins and needles feeling has been described in different ways from those who've felt it. Some liken it to having their "skin crawl." Others say it's more like an elusive itch that can't be effectively scratched. You feel this way because your brain is sending you a warning that it's time to move, shift or change positions. Something is interfering with the nerve endings in that part of your body, usually an extremity, and it needs to be remedied.
Typically, an hour or two spent in the same position is harmless. But spend too much time immobile in a restrictive position, and you could risk permanent nerve damage that's irreversible.
Paresthesia at Night
For most people, pins and needles is an occasional sensation that's no big deal, but for others, it can be much more annoying. If you routinely suffer from paresthesia at night, for instance, it can interfere with the quality and quantity of the sleep you get. This can cause problems throughout the day when you're chronically tired, have slower reaction times or cranky, irritable and moody.
If you're awakened at night by paresthesia, or if the sensation keeps you from falling asleep in a timely fashion, there are some simple remedies that may help:
- Change out your old mattress for a new one. Spending eight or more hours on an ill-fitting mattress can lead to odd sleep positions that restrict your movement as you try to find ways to get comfortable. Also, when certain parts of your body press against the mattress, circulation can become impeded, causing you to toss and turn to alleviate the pressure. A mattress that offers pressure relief provides cushioning support and disperses pressure away from your body's pressure points.
- Develop a nighttime routine that helps you relax before bed. You might meditate for 30 minutes, do a few simple yoga stretches, or indulge in a hot bath. Anything that helps your body relax and switch over into sleep mode can help alleviate the risk of paresthesia during the night.
- Switch out tired, worn pillows for newer versions that are specifically designed to help your body maintain the correct spinal alignment during sleep.
In most instances, that pins and needles feeling is beneficial. It's telling you that something is wrong, and you need to right it. Occasionally, however, it can be an indicator of a more serious medical condition. Some issues that can begin as a pins and needles sensation include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and even diabetes. If your pins and needles are chronic, or are accompanied by total numbness in your arm or leg, it's time to visit your doctor. Your doctor may be able to prescribe simple lifestyle changes or medication to improve your condition.