Here's What It Means When Your Foot Falls Asleep

When your foot falls asleep, you may be thinking that it has something to do with poor circulation. That's a common cause of paresthesia, or numbness and tingling in the feet, but it's not the only one. Sometimes, paresthesia is a symptom of diabetes or other health conditions, warns the University of Southern California.

That pins-and-needles feeling is often related to prolonged sitting, especially if you're keeping your legs crossed. This sitting position can temporarily compress the nerves in your feet, causing numbness. The sensation is usually painless and goes away pretty quickly, explains the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). But if you experience this feeling more often than not, you might be dealing with chronic paresthesia.

According to NINDS, chronic paresthesia may indicate an underlying condition, such as stroke or carpal tunnel syndrome. In some cases, it can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis. Nutrient deficiencies, liver or kidney disease, and certain medications may cause persistent numbness, too (via Harvard Health). Tingling in the feet is rarely something to worry about, but it's important to seek medical help if your symptoms persist or keep coming back.

What causes numbness in the feet?

Numbness in the feet, legs, or hands is often due to nerve problems, says Harvard Health. A common cause is peripheral neuropathy, a condition that affects about 20 million people. Peripheral neuropathy isn't a disease itself but rather a symptom of an underlying disorder, such as diabetes or vascular disease. It can also be a sign of thyroid disease or a side effect of antibiotics and other drugs.

If your foot falls asleep often, your diet might be the culprit. Vitamin B12 deficiency, for example, may cause that pins-and-needles sensation, as well as fatigue, diminished mental focus, anemia, and other symptoms, warns Harvard Health. Since this nutrient occurs mostly in animal foods, vegans and vegetarians are more likely to develop deficiencies. Also, note that bariatric surgery and certain conditions, such as celiac disease, may affect your body's ability to absorb vitamin B12.

Another common cause of numbness in the feet is sciatica, a form of nerve pain that may result from injuries, heavy lifting, diabetes, smoking, or weak core muscles. This condition affects more than 40% of Americans at some point in their lives, reports the Cleveland Clinic. The sciatic nerve runs through the lower back and down through the gluteal muscles, legs, and feet. When irritated, it may trigger that pins-and-needles feeling in any of these areas, including your feet and toes. You may also experience lower back pain, buttock pain, and other aches.

Watch your alcohol intake

What you eat and drink has a direct impact on your health. Therefore, it's not surprising that excessive drinking may cause numbness in the feet and legs, according to American Addiction Centers. This condition is known as alcohol neuropathy and affects about half of chronic heavy drinkers. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to nerve damage and deplete your body of essential nutrients, such as vitamin B1.

Over time, heavy drinking can affect one or more nerves, causing numbness and tingling in the limbs, balance problems, and burning or shooting pain. You may also have difficulty walking and experience muscle weakness. Dizziness, breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, and changes in bowel habits are common, too, reports American Addiction Centers. As the researchers note, these symptoms tend to worsen over time.

While an occasional glass of wine is unlikely to cause these symptoms, heavy drinking can impair nerve function and affect your health later down the road. To stay safe, try not to exceed two drinks per day if you're a man or a drink per day if you're a woman, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One drink is about 5 ounces of wine with 12% alcohol, 12 ounces of beer with 5% alcohol, or 1.5 ounces of gin, whiskey, and other spirits with no more than 40% alcohol.

Do these things when your foot falls asleep

Unless you have an underlying condition, your symptoms should subside within minutes. Meanwhile, there are some things you can do to prevent and relieve the numbness in your foot. The experts at BayCare advise against crossing your legs while sitting, as it puts pressure on the nerves in your feet and legs. They also recommend changing positions regularly when sitting or lying down. Stand up and move around at regular intervals when you have to sit for longer periods.

Regular exercise may help, too. Certain yoga poses, for instance, may decompress the nerves while strengthening the muscles around them. Over time, they may help prevent pinched nerves, according to Yoga Practice. The sphinx pose, the bridge pose, the downward dog, and the extended side angle pose are particularly beneficial. 

If your foot falls asleep due to sciatica, you may want to try Pilates, acupuncture, or physical therapy (via Pain Doctor). Pilates, for example, may help decompress the sciatic nerve and reduce pain (via the Pilates Foundation). Another thing you can do is to tweak your diet. For starters, try to boost your vitamin B12 intake. If you're a vegan or vegetarian, fill up on grains, soymilk, rice beverages, nutritional yeast, and other foods fortified with this nutrient, suggests Today's Dietician

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).