The myth of obdormition – when arms and legs fall asleep

Severe tingling, itching and numbness when your arms or legs fall asleep are quite unpleasant for a short time. But what is behind the sudden “sleep” and how does it happen 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 bodies.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Obdormition?
  2. Typical symptoms of obdormition
  3. Causes and triggers for falling asleep
  4. Here's what you can do about it
  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 is 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 does it happen that 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 limbs “falling asleep”. By this we basically mean suddenly occurring abnormal sensations and numbness in individual parts of the body, so-called paresthesias. 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 usually no longer able to control and move the affected area properly and have to endure the furry or pins and needles feeling under the skin. In principle, all parts of the body can be affected by obdormition, but the outer extremities, i.e. our arms and legs or even individual fingers and toes, fall asleep most often.

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

2. Causes and triggers of obdormition

The “falling asleep” of limbs is fundamentally 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 pathways that run through our entire body.

smartsleep Schlafmagazin Obdormition Einschlafen Gliedßmaßen Nervenbahnen und Nervensystem des Menschen

The typical failure symptoms that we refer to as a part of the body “falling asleep” occur when the nerve pathways are impaired by incorrect pressure, bottlenecks or bending and the transmission of stimuli is interrupted - for example because our legs or arms are in a bent or bent position for too long remain 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 leads to the typical feelings of numbness. When we then move again, the blocked nerve is released and the supply to the nerve pathways resumes, flooding our brain with stimuli. This is how the typical pulling, stinging or burning sensation occurs, which usually goes away after a short time.

Although your arms or legs fall asleep, it is extremely unpleasant, but it is usually harmless and goes away quickly. Nevertheless, in rare cases, health problems can also be behind frequent obdormition, such as carpal tunnel or restless leg syndrome. So if you often suffer from numb or tingling arms, legs or fingers, you should definitely contact a doctor.

3. Typical symptoms of obdormition


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

Tingling, stinging, pulling

The tingling, itching feeling under the skin arises as 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 stimuli can be reopened. As soon as we move and the nerve pathway is exposed again, the brain is flooded with the multitude of stimuli, whereupon it reacts with the unpleasant sensation of pins and needles under the skin.

4. Quick help against sleepy 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. When we change our posture, the supply to the nerve pathways starts 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 part of the body and release pinched nerves. In order for the blockage of the nerve and blood vessels to resolve more quickly, 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 your hand, fingers, legs or toes are supplied with oxygen and nutrients more quickly and to theirs can return to healthy function.

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

5. Conclusion

  • The myth of Obdormition or Limbs falling asleep refers to short-term abnormal sensations in individual parts of the body caused by a blockage of the nerve and conduction system.
  • Arms and legs that fall asleep are not really sleeping, but due to the disturbed connection to the brain they become temporarily numb and difficult to control.
  • In addition to direct pressure relief and movement, gentle rubbing and massaging also help against unpleasant symptoms such as tingling, stinging, itching or pulling.

Greetings and see you soon!

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