Clenching Fist While Sleeping: What Causes It and How to Avoid It

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A good night’s rest is vital to help our bodies process the day and prepare for the next one.

Waking up with a clenched fist may suggest that something disrupted this body-priming cycle. So, what might trigger a response of a clenching fist while sleeping?

That’s what we’re about to discuss in this post. We’ll also share three scientifically proven tips to help you sleep better and, hopefully, avoid waking up with balled-up fists.

how to stop clenching fists in sleep

3 Possible Causes for Clenching Fist While Sleeping

Let’s start with the reassuring fact that balling up your fist while sleeping isn’t always a sign of a serious illness.

There are a few common causes for waking up with this hand posture, which can be either mental or physical. We’ll go over each reason thoroughly, beginning with the mild ones and progressing to the more complex reasons.

1.   Having a Stressful Day

If you don’t frequently clench your fist while sleeping, the rare instances when you do could be because of stress.

Our daily stressors are numerous, and their intensity can vary depending on the situation. For example, you may feel stressed before an important job interview, an exam, or even moving to a new place.

The thing is, stress can have a direct impact on your nighttime restfulness. It either makes it difficult to sleep or triggers distressing dreams. These dreams cause your body to experience tension, which can occasionally lead to fist clenching.

If you don’t frequently clench your fist while sleeping, the rare instances when you do could be because of stress.

2.   Experiencing Anxiety

Let’s just highlight the main differences between stress and anxiety so you can tell them apart. Both conditions are quite similar in being responses to emotional triggers and share nearly all the top symptoms.

That said, stress is caused by a temporary external factor that’ll pass sooner or later. In other words, you can become stressed because of an impending deadline, but you’ll feel better once the task is over.

On the other hand, anxiety disorder is defined as a constant feeling of excessive worry that occurs even in the absence of a known stressor.

This anxiety manifests itself in both mental and physical symptoms, and one of its most common physical effects is muscle tension.

Jason Conover, a social worker at Intermountain Healthcare’s Utah Valley Hospital, explained that anxiety spreads tension throughout your body out of fear of something happening. Similar to how your body tenses up to brace itself before a car accident or getting punched.

Therefore, anxiety disorders can lead to clenching fists and even jaws unconsciously. Not to mention, just like with stress, you can have anxiety dreams that cause you to ball up your fists while sleeping.

This anxiety manifests itself in both mental and physical symptoms, and one of its most common physical effects is muscle tension.

3.   Suffering from a Medical Condition

A number of medical conditions can cause clenched fists as a symptom. So, if you frequently wake up with this hand placement, you should check yourself for other warning signs to help identify a possible illness.

For example, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the conditions associated with fist clenching, and here’s more about it:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that drives the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells, causing inflammation in the affected body parts.

The cause of RA is unknown; however, some risk factors are gender (where women are more susceptible), smoking, and obesity.

Although this disease is more common among the elderly, it can occur at any age. One of the signs of RA is clenching your fist while sleeping, among other symptoms, including:

  • Joint tenderness and swelling
  • Joint stiffness that worsens in the mornings
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
A number of medical conditions can cause clenched fists as a symptom. So, if you frequently wake up with this hand placement, you should check yourself for other warning signs to help identify a possible illness.

Should You Worry About Clenched Fist Syndrome?

We thought we’d go into more detail about Clenched Fist Syndrome (CFS) since you might come across it during your research.

First of all, if you have this condition, you’ll be clenching your fist both awake and asleep. It’s also worth noting that this is a rare psychiatric disorder, not an organic one. So, don’t worry about CFS if you only woke up a couple of times with your fists clenched.

Simply put, CFS patients have flexion in some or all of their fingers in one or both hands. Interestingly, when a CFS patient’s hand is examined, it shows no signs of joint tenderness or swelling. Moreover, there are no abnormalities found in the hand’s X-ray results.

Consequently, based on these brief facts presented about CFS, it’s only considered a possibility in patients who meet the following two conditions:

  1. Unexplained flexion hand contractures
  2. A positive psychiatric history, such as depression or schizophrenia

Unfortunately, cases of uncommon disorders like this one usually go unrecognized. As a result, most of the time, the patients might not receive adequate treatment and may even suffer the consequences of unnecessary operations.

If you’re one of the rare people who has been diagnosed with CFS, avoid surgical procedures since they can make things worse. Instead, it’s best to concentrate on treating the underlying psychiatric condition that’s contributing to this disorder.

CFS patients have flexion in some or all of their fingers in one or both hands. Interestingly, when a CFS patient’s hand is examined, it shows no signs of joint tenderness or swelling. Moreover, there are no abnormalities found in the hand’s X-ray results.

3 Proven Tips for a More Relaxed Sleep

If you find yourself clenching your fists more than usual and have other concerning symptoms, we recommend you see a doctor.

Whereas, if you’re going through a transition in your life or have been diagnosed with anxiety, it’s normal for your body to react even while you’re sleeping. Yet, by developing a relaxing nighttime routine, you can overcome the sleeping issues caused by stress or similar conditions.

Here are three tried-and-true tips to unwind before bedtime:

3 proven tips for a relaxed sleep

1.   Take a Warm Bath

Warm baths work wonders for improving sleep quality, even in the sweltering summer. The ideal time to take that bath will be one or two hours before going to bed. It can last as little as 10 minutes with a shower temperature of 104°F.

It’s been scientifically shown that warm showers promote relaxation and prepare your body for better sleep. While you might think that the warmth from those baths is what helps you sleep faster, that’s not the case.

In fact, hot baths have the opposite effect, according to Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist and sleep specialist at the University of California.

Walker explained that in order to initiate and maintain deep sleep, our core body temperature needs to drop by 2 to 3°F. That’s exactly what happens when you immerse yourself in warm water, where your body begins to release its heat primarily through your hands and feet.

2.   Don’t Use Electronic Devices

One of the most powerful habits you’ll need to develop before going to sleep is putting away electronic devices.

We understand that some people are used to checking their phones at night as a form of distraction until they fall asleep. What they don’t realize is that scrolling through social media can easily keep your brain awake for longer periods since it stimulates your brain.

What’s more, the blue light emitted by the devices inhibits the production of melatonin.

Keep in mind that melatonin is the hormone responsible for synchronizing our circadian rhythms and the sleep-wake cycle. Naturally, when it’s restricted, it becomes more difficult to fall asleep and even wake up the next day.

To limit the electronic devices’ negative effects on your sleep cycle, avoid using them within an hour or two of heading to bed. Besides, be sure to turn on night mode on your phone to stop notifications from disturbing you.

A small piece of advice: if it’s hard for you to resist holding your phone or tablet while lying in bed, try leaving it in another room.

3.   Engage in a Soothing Activity

The first rule for breaking any bad habit is to replace it with a good one. In a case like this one, to stop holding your phone before going to bed, you’ll need to substitute it with one that better serves your body at this time, but why?

Because, in simple terms, we’re creatures of habit. To be more specific, you’re used to checking your phone before going to bed, so you’ll feel compelled to do so every night, but that could contribute to the fist-clenching issue.

Instead, having a new habit serves as a backup plan for when you’re bored and about to fall back into an old one. So, here are five excellent examples of soothing activities you can do before heading to sleep:

By incorporating a relaxing activity into your nighttime routine, you’ll be hitting two birds with one stone.

On the one hand, this soothing activity will keep you away from electronic devices. On the other hand, it’ll help unwind your mind, and some of these activities may even help release muscle tension.

The Takeaway

While clenching your fist while sleeping might be harmless, the key is to address the root of the problem.

Just try to maintain a trial-and-error mindset as you create a new relaxing bedtime routine. Change takes time, so don’t get frustrated if you don’t see results right away. Remember that all it takes is consistency for everything to fall into place!

Be patient with your results.