Are you waking up with scratches on your skin and don’t know how you got them? The most probable reason is you unknowingly scratched yourself when you were fast asleep. Research suggests that scratching during your sleep may be diagnosed as parasomnia, a group of sleep disorders that disrupt your sleep with unusual physical activities (1). Severe scratching can lead to skin injury, scars, and bleeding. But is it the only reason? In this article, we will get a deep understanding of what causes these scratches, their symptoms, when is the right time to visit a doctor, and the available treatment options.
In This Article
Symptoms Of Scratches And Cuts
If you are waking up with scratches on your face, neck, or any other part of your body, they might lead to the following symptoms.
- swelling around the scratched area
- rash on the skin
- disrupted sleep
- irritation on the skin
The above symptoms can cause distress and may disrupt your daily activities. In the next section, let’s explore the possible causes for these scratch marks.
Causes For Scratches And Cuts
- Sleep Pattern – Studies suggest that when you are sleeping at night, your skin experiences more water loss. At the same time, your body also secretes fewer amounts of cortisol, a hormone that regulates the metabolic process in your body. These factors have been linked to a person having the urge to scratch more at night (1).
- Skin Diseases – Diseases such as eczema, scabies, and psoriasis have been associated with severe itching and rashes which may increase the probability of you scratching yourself at night (2), (3), (4).
- Flagellate Dermatoses – A type of skin condition that is characterized by the development of marks resembling whiplashes. These scratch marks on your skin may develop as a side effect after a person goes through chemotherapy (5).
- Dermatographia – This is a type of disease where lightly touching or scratching your skin leads to the development of red scratch marks. These red scratch marks may develop on your skin when you are sleeping (6).
- Scratches From Your Pet – If you wake up with mysterious scratches, it is not always self-inflicted. If you are sleeping with a pet, then chances are they might have scratched you unintentionally while you were sleeping.
- Allergic Reactions – An allergic reaction to a medication, food, or material may lead to you scratching yourself at night while asleep. Other than scratches, you may wake up with swelling, rashes, or red skin (7).
- Sleepwalking – Also known as somnambulism, this is a condition where a person gets up and engages in physical activity while in deep sleep. Due to lack of consciousness in this condition, there is a high probability that you may bump into something and hurt yourself. Studies have shown that sleepwalking has led to people being administered in the hospital with injuries (8).
- Pregnancy – If you are pregnant, you will notice that as your belly starts to increase, you develop stretch marks that can itch a lot, which may lead you to scratch yourself when you are asleep (9).
- Insect Bites – If insects such as bed bugs or mosquitoes bite you while you are sleeping, then you might scratch yourself at night and wake up with marks on you.
- Nocturnal Pruritus – As the name suggests, this is a condition where you get the urge to scratch your skin at night. This may disrupt your sleep pattern and chances are you may wake up with scratch marks in the morning (10).
As you can see, there are several factors that may cause you to develop scratches and cuts while you are asleep. Remember that when the symptoms get worse, it’s important to seek medical attention.
When To See A Doctor
Most often, when you wake up with light scratches, they tend to resolve on their own. But if you see a sign of infection or bleeding, and the itching still persists, then it is advisable that you go visit a doctor. In the next section, let’s see how your doctor may diagnose the scratches on your skin.
Diagnosis Of Scratches On Skin
Your doctor will first conduct a physical examination to get a better understanding of the nature of the scratches and determine whether it is due to an allergic reaction, skin disease, or something else. If it is due to these factors, then your doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment for the same. If your doctor cannot find any known reasons for these scratches, then he/she might refer you to a sleep specialist. The sleep specialist may do a sleep study to observe your behavior during sleep and then may prescribe the appropriate treatment for you (1). Let us look at the different treatment options available for scratches on your skin.
Find below a few treatment options available for you depending on the underlying cause of this condition.
- Topical Creams And Moisturizers – If you develop itching due to skin conditions such as scabies or psoriasis, then the effective treatment might be to apply different topical creams and moisturizers. These products, when applied, can help reduce the itching and keep your skin moisturized (3),(4).
- Medication – If the underlying cause of itching is due to an allergic reaction to a substance or food, consult your doctor. To reduce the symptoms, your doctor will prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids which can help combat the urge to itch (11).
- Apply Natural Ingredients For Minor Cuts – If you have light or minor cuts, you can apply aloe vera gel which has been used for centuries to treat minor cuts (12).
As they say, prevention is better than cure. Let us read about the different ways to prevent yourself from scratching during your sleep.
How To Prevent Scratches And Cuts
You will find below a list of simple tips that can reduce the risk of developing scratching yourself at night. They are:
- Reduce The Stress In Your Life – You may not know this, but stress and anxiety have been linked to increased itching and vice versa (13). Just before going to sleep, we might be plagued with many stressful thoughts. To make sure you reduce the stress in your life, try mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, or listening to music to relax your mind before going to bed (14).
- Keep your nails short or trimmed to reduce the risk of painful and deep scratches.
- If your scratches are due to your pet, then sleep alone for a few days in a separate room.
- Moisturize yourself regularly to avoid dry skin. This reduces the chances of scratching your skin.
- Wear soft cotton gloves at night to keep yourself from scratching.
- Spray your room with insect repellent to prevent insects from coming in and biting you.
Waking up with scratches on your skin can be due to multiple reasons. Starting from skin conditions to allergic reactions, even an insect bite can cause you to scratch yourself when you are sleeping. Scratch marks that don’t go away on their own must be examined by a dermatologist. Depending on the underlying cause, your doctor may prescribe you medication to keep the itching under control. But if you are looking for simple tips to stop yourself from scratching, then keeping your nails trimmed or reducing the stress in your life can go a long way in keeping yourself scratch-free.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Will an itch go away if you don’t scratch it?
No. It may increase your urge to scratch. If you have uncontrollable itching, you must visit your dermatologist immediately.
How long do scratches last on the skin?
This depends on the severity of the scratch. If it is a minor scratch, it will heal within 7 to 10 days. But if it is a deeper one, it may take more time.
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- Sleep Related Scratching: A Distinct Parasomnia?
- Flagellate Dermatoses
- The development of allergic inflammation
- Somnambulism: Emergency Department Admissions Due to Sleepwalking-Related Trauma
- Prevalence and Relevance of Pruritus in Pregnancy
- Nocturnal Pruritus
- The role and choice criteria of antihistamines in allergy management – expert opinion
- The Effects of Aloe vera on Wound Healing in Cell Proliferation Migration and Viability
- The Vicious Cycle of Itch and Anxiety
- Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on employees’ mental health: A systematic review