Why Can’t You Clench Your Fist Right After Waking Up?

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When you wake up, it takes some time to get the electrolytes flowing through the muscles in your hands again. That’s why you may not be able to make a fist right after waking up. This effect is more pronounced if you don’t wake up naturally.

Balling up your palm and making a fist is easy enough, isn’t it? But try doing that right after you wake up from deep sleep. It’s a simple enough task, yet it is tough to complete immediately after pulling out of slumber. Why is that?


As it turns out, there are a few reasons behind this strange bodily phenomenon.

Note: This is not a universal thing. Not everyone experiences difficulty clenching their palms into a fist right after waking up. Moreover, this little symptom may be a sign of a more serious condition that requires medical attention.

The Role Of Electrolytes In Muscle Engagement

For a muscle to contract, it needs two basic components – a nerve impulse (or an electrical signal from a nearby nerve) and electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge when dissolved in a liquid. Common electrolytes are potassium, calcium, sodium, and bicarbonate.

A muscle needs calcium, potassium, and sodium to contract. When the muscle receives an impulse to contract from a nerve, it leads to a change in the electrolyte concentration in the muscle. Calcium and sodium enter the muscle cells, and potassium leaks out. Calcium, in particular, helps the muscles contract.

However, when the muscle needs to relax, it only needs potassium. This is why a lack of potassium causes such nasty muscle cramps.

Cramp in leg while exercising. Sports injury concept
Lack of potassium causes muscle cramps. (Photo Credit : Narong Jongsirikul / Shutterstock)

Also Read: Why Do Our Fingers Curl When Sleeping?

Reduced Brain And Heart Activity During Sleep

When you sleep, your body relaxes and begins to heal itself. You see, when you’re moving around constantly or generally physically active during your waking hours, the heart needs to pump blood quickly so that all vital organs of your body function efficiently. However, when you are in a deep sleep, you do not move much moving around (unless you’re Wolverine, of course!).

The Wolverine – a fictional character in the Marvel Comics’ X-Men – could never really sleep peacefully due to terrible, vivid nightmares. (Photo Credit: Marvel Studios)

Without any physical movement, your heart rate drops during sleep. This heart rate is enough to pump blood through your relaxed body, but not nearly as efficiently as when you are awake. Thus, the body decides which parts need the most oxygen and electrolytes and reduces blood flow to the muscles in the limbs. Your brain takes care of all this without you having to think about it.

The moment you wake up, all systems resume their “waking hours” duties, but this does not happen immediately. It takes some time to get the electrolytes flowing through the muscles in your hands again. That’s why you may not be able to make a fist right after waking up. This effect is more pronounced if you do not wake up naturally.

If you wake up in response to an emergency such as a fire or other danger, the dynamic changes. In this case, your body releases adrenaline, and you gain all the strength you need to cope with the “fight or flight” situation.

my heart meme

Also Read: Why Do We Stretch When We Wake Up?

Sign Of A Medical Condition?

Many people experience this weird sensation of not being able to make a fist just after waking up; it’s a perfectly natural thing to experience. However, if it occurs suddenly, without warning, or worsens over time, it could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome.

In other words, if you have never experienced this sort of hand weakness and suddenly do, it’s best to consult a doctor and get it checked out.

Do you know why it’s hard to make a fist right after waking up?

Can you answer three questions based on the article you just read?

References (click to expand)
  1. Potassium and sodium out of balance - Harvard Health. Harvard University
  2. The Characteristics of Sleep - Healthy Sleep (Harvard). Harvard University
  3. Fluid and Electrolyte Balance - cybercemetery.unt.edu
  4. 26.3 Electrolyte Balance – Anatomy & Physiology. Oregon State University
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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spearheads the content and editorial wing of ScienceABC and manages its official Youtube channel. He’s a Harry Potter fan and tries, in vain, to use spells and charms (Accio! [insert object name]) in real life to get things done. He totally gets why JRR Tolkien would create, from scratch, a language spoken by elves, and tries to bring the same passion in everything he does. A big admirer of Richard Feynman and Nikola Tesla, he obsesses over how thoroughly science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.