The Myth of Obdormition - When arms and legs fall asleep

Intense tingling, itching and numbness in arms or legs that have fallen asleep are quite uncomfortable for a short time. But what is behind the sudden "sleep" and how is it that we lose control of our limbs for a short time? We clarify why our body parts sometimes fall asleep and what really happens in our body.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Obdormition?
  2. Typical symptoms of obdormition
  3. Causes and triggers of falling asleep
  4. You can do this
  5. Conclusion

We all know the feeling when our arms, legs or even individual fingers and toes fall asleep: It tingles, itches and doesn't really hurt, but it's still very uncomfortable for a short time. Especially when we sit cross-legged or with our legs crossed or overnight when we lie in bed for a long time, our arms and legs often fall asleep. But do our limbs really “fall asleep” during this time or how come we lose feeling in our arms or legs for a few moments?

1. What is Obdormition?

The technical term obdormition describes a widespread phenomenon that we know in everyday life as the "falling asleep" of the limbs. By this we mean sudden discomfort and numbness in individual parts of the body, so-called paraesthesia. In the affected part of the body, there is an unpleasant tingling, burning, stinging or pulling sensation and a pronounced feeling of numbness. For a short time we are then usually no longer able to control and move the affected area properly and have to put up with the furry or pinched feeling under the skin. In principle, all parts of the body can be affected by obdormition, but the outer extremities fall asleep most frequently, i.e. our arms and legs or individual fingers and toes.

However, this has little to do with our nocturnal recovery sleep, because obdormition is not a phase of rest and regeneration, but a short-term, neurological dysfunction.

2. Causes and triggers of an obdormition

The "falling asleep" of limbs is basically due to an impairment of our nervous system. Our nerves are responsible for transmitting stimuli and information from all areas of the body, which we perceive through our senses, directly to the brain, where they can be processed and evaluated. This happens primarily via the nerve tracts that run through our entire body.

smartsleep Schlafmagazin Obdormition Einschlafen Gliedßmaßen Nervenbahnen und Nervensystem des Menschen

The typical symptoms that we call "falling asleep" of a body part occur when the nerve tracts are impaired by incorrect pressure loads, bottlenecks or kinks and the transmission of stimuli is interrupted - for example because our legs or arms are in a kinked or bent position for too long stay in an uncomfortable position. Then the brain no longer receives any information and can no longer properly control the affected part of the body. This is how the typical numbness occurs. If we then move again, the blocked nerve is released and the supply to the nerve tracts resumes, which means that our brain is flooded with stimuli. This causes the typical pulling, stinging or burning sensation, which usually subsides after a short time.

Although arms or legs falling asleep is extremely unpleasant, it is usually harmless and quickly subsides. Nevertheless, in rare cases, health problems can also be behind more obsessive compulsion, such as carpal tunnel or restless leg syndrome. So if you often suffer from numb or tingling arms, legs or fingers, you should definitely consult a doctor.

3. Typical symptoms of obdormition


If the transmission of stimuli is interrupted by an unsuitable posture, there may also be reduced blood flow to the affected parts of the body, which means that they cannot be supplied with sufficient oxygen and nutrients. This also restricts the general function of the arm or leg that has fallen asleep, since both the control via the nerve tract and the supply through the blood are blocked.

tingling, stinging, pulling

The tingling, itchy feeling under the skin is a kind of warning signal from the nerves to change our posture and move the affected part of the body so that the flow of stimulation can be reopened. As soon as we move and the nerve tract is exposed again, the brain is then almost flooded with the multitude of stimuli, whereupon it reacts with the unpleasant pins and needles pricking under the skin.

4. Fast help against sleeping arms and legs

smartsleep Schlafmagazin Obdormition Eingeschlafene Gliedmaßen bewegen, massieren und dehnen um Taubheit zu lösen

As long as our foot or arm is "asleep", we don't actually feel any real pain. With a change in our posture, the nerve tracts are supplied again, the body part "wakes up" and unpleasant feelings such as tingling or stinging begin.

If your leg or arm has fallen asleep, the first thing to do is: move! Change your sitting or lying position to relieve the affected body part and release pinched nerves. It can also help to activate the muscles and blood circulation in the affected part of the body by gently rubbing and stretching so that the blockage in the nerve and blood vessels can be released more quickly, so that your hand, fingers, legs or toes can be supplied with oxygen and nutrients more quickly and yours return to healthy function.

Attention: Remember that your body needs a few moments to fully regain control of body parts that have gone to sleep. For example, you should not step directly on a fallen foot to avoid risking injury.

5. Conclusion

  • The myth of obdormition or the falling asleep of limbs refers to short-term discomfort in individual parts of the body caused by a blockage of the nerve and stimulus conduction system.
  • Arms and legs that have fallen asleep do not really sleep, but become numb for a short time and difficult to control due to the disrupted connection to the brain.
  • In addition to direct pressure relief and movement, gentle rubbing and massaging help against unpleasant symptoms such as tingling, stinging, itching or pulling.

Greetings and see you soon!

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