Babies typically clench their fists before falling asleep and then start to loosen their grip after falling asleep. But, what about us adults? Why would we have a clenched fist while sleeping? Perhaps it was because of a dream, but there could be other factors on why you have a clenched fist while sleeping. Let’s take a look.

Reasons Why You Clench Your Fist While Sleeping

The good news is that most of the time, clenching your fist while you sleep is perfectly normal. And in most cases, the only thing it causes is some discomfort upon awakening and not a disruption in sleep. Sleep is the time that your brain has to process emotions and store memories from the day. So, if you just had a stressful day, or have one coming up, it might be completely normal to have an action-packed dream (about being in a fight, or being chased), and wake up with fists clenched. However, if your symptoms are frequently recurring, or if you are starting to wake up with pain and swelling in your hands, it might be time to look at some other causes.

• Emotional Anxiety or Stress

Recent theories have drawn ties between fist clenching and bruxism—the clenching and grinding of teeth. Studies have shown that both motions activate the sensorimotor cortex of the brain. More than 70% of bruxism cases are associated with periods of increased anxiety and stress. So, if you have been experiencing a prolonged period of clenching your fists, you might need to look to see if you are under a high amount of stress.

• Physical Exertion, Tension, or Pain

Maybe you’ve taken up lifting weights (which requires a tight grip), or you’ve developed lower back pain. Either way physical exertion, tension, and pain can all express itself directly or indirectly in your hands. Look to see if there are any recent changes in your lifestyle that could be a contributing factor. If you have increased your physical exertion, make sure you are staying hydrated, as dehydration can cause muscle cramping.

• Certain Medications

Cholesterol medications are known for causing muscle pain and cramping, known as statin-induced muscle pain. This condition is caused by an increase in creatine kinase in the bloodstream and more commonly affects women. Antidepressant medications are also known to cause joint pain and muscle aches. If you’ve had any recent changes in your medications, this could be a factor.

• Underlying Medical Conditions

Epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, and schizophrenia have all been linked with causing clenched fists, however these conditions present during the daytime as well as at night. And although bruxism has been tied to sleep apnea, no link has yet been made between sleep apnea and fist clenching.

Things You Can Do

While more studies continue to come forward, there are some steps you can take to try to alleviate your symptoms.

• Document Any Changes

As with any changes in your health, a little detective work can always go a long way. Try to think back when your fist clenching started if you made any changes in your diet, medications, or other routines.

• Reduce Stress

Reducing stress is the key to alleviating many ailments. Try to relax before you go to bed to get yourself in the right mindset to drift off. Try meditation, deep breathing, calming music, or a warm bath.

• Reduce Stimulants

During this time, try reducing your caffeine, nicotine, and sugar.

• Try Magnesium

Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant, and can help relieve muscle stiffness and cramps while you doze. Consult your doctor for the proper dose and to ensure it can be taken with your other medications.

• Stay Hydrated

Since being dehydrated can cause muscle cramps, be sure you are staying hydrated and getting electrolytes. Just make sure you don’t drink too much too close to bedtime or you’ll wake up often to use the restroom.

• Hold onto an Object

Some sleepers have found temporary relief in holding onto an object when they sleep, such as a squeeze ball or a pillow.

Can Clenched Fist While Sleeping Be Good for You?

There is some good news to be aware of. There are signs that a clenched fist while sleeping is actually good for you. Studies have shown clenching our fists helps us better handle physical or emotional discomfort, and even give us a sense of control and empowerment.

Jacksonville Sleep Center

If clenching your fists is keeping you from sleeping, it may be time to see a specialist. At Jacksonville Sleep Center, we understand that no two patients are the same, which is why we personalize each visit and plan to each patient. We want to help you improve your quality of life through sleep. Contact us today to request your appointment.