5 Reasons You Wake Up With Scratches

Waking up with marks on your body can be disturbing. You may recall nighttime itchiness and scratching, but it is possible to notice marks and not remember how they got there.

Nighttime scratches, rashes, hives, or other marks on your body aren't always due to something sinister; there is usually a reasonable explanation, even if you don't remember.

This article will explore potential reasons you are waking up with scratches.

Cropped shot of young woman suffering from skin allergy, scratching her forearm with fingers
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There are simple reasons for itching that leads to scratching at night including dry skin or allergies. You may also be scratching yourself by accident by keeping your fingernails too long or wearing jewelry to bed.


If you wake up with scratches on your body that have an apparent cause, treatment is straightforward and includes prevention and minor first aid. If your scratch is bleeding, you may need to cover it with a bandage.


Prevention is best when it comes to overnight self-scratching. Keep your skin hydrated and moist, and keep your fingernails short and filed. You may also want to remove jewelry or irritating clothing before bed.


Also known as "skin writing," dermatographia or dermatographism is a condition similar to hives. Between 2% and 5% of the population experience redness or welts in areas irritated by scratching, rubbing, or stroking.

These marks are believed to result from an abnormal release of histamines in the body and can appear five to seven minutes after irritation occurs.


For most people with this condition, dermatographism will go away within half an hour. Your healthcare provider may suggest a skin care regimen or use over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to control these reactions.

Xolair (omalizumab), a prescription anti-inflammatory, is currently being researched as a treatment for this condition. Early trials have shown the medication is helpful in improving the quality of life for people with dermatographism.


Experts aren't sure what causes dermatographism, making it challenging to pinpoint prevention techniques. Skin care, hygiene, and hydration offer protective benefits.


Rashes can cause irritation and lead to itching. Certain conditions cause itching and rashes as side effects or symptoms. Examples include:


Treatment for itching with a rash depends on the cause. If you itch and then scratch your skin because of an allergy, avoiding and treating the allergy is crucial to your skin (and overall) health. Treatment may include anti-inflammatory medications, immunotherapy, or other procedures.


Prevention may not be an option if a more severe condition causes the itching. For example, people with kidney disease who are on dialysis can't do much to prevent itching as a symptom.

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking enough water, and maintaining skin health may help you prevent chronic conditions or the development of a rash and itching as a symptom of another disorder.

Sleepwalking and Parasomnia

In some cases, behavioral or psychological conditions can explain why you wake up with scratches. Sleepwalking affects an estimated 4% of adults in the United States and can lead to accidental injuries from falling or tripping.

Similarly, parasomnia is a sleep disturbance in which you may scratch yourself or perform other movements in your sleep that could leave marks. These disorders can lead to various abnormal movements during sleep.


If you sleepwalk or make abnormal movements in your sleep that leave marks, talk to your healthcare provider to determine the cause.

Addressing underlying stress and psychological conditions or any physical issues that increase itching may help treat your parasomnia. Parasomnias do not always require treatment, but if you are in danger from your sleeping activities, talk to your healthcare provider about screening and treatment for sleep disorders.


Preventing sleepwalking and other parasomnias isn't always possible, but taking care of your mental and emotional health can help. Another tool for prevention is practicing good sleep hygiene by:

  • Avoiding daytime naps
  • Avoiding screen time before bed
  • Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day
  • Reducing caffeine and other stimulants before bedtime

Pets and Pests

Another explanation for waking up with scratches is from a pet or other less welcome creatures.

Insects and other critters can live in your bedding or burrow into your skin well before you go to sleep. Many of these pests are so small you may not even notice them and are more active when you are still or sleeping, leaving visible marks by morning.

Examples of pests that can cause rashes or itching include:


If your rash or scratches appear with minor marks that look like an insect could have caused them, you can apply OTC anti-itch creams. You may also need to eradicate the insect infestation with special products that can kill pests like lice, fleas, and more.

Scabies infestations might require a scabicide medication to kill these particular pests. If you know or suspect an insect or pest has bitten you, your healthcare provider can guide you to the proper treatment based on the offending pest.

If pets (or human sleeping partners) are scratching you during the night, you may need to revisit your sleeping arrangements.


To prevent scratches from pets and certain infestations, it can help to keep pets and other animals away from your bed. Even if your animal isn't the problem, pets can bring insects and other pests into your home on their skin or fur.

It's also a good idea to treat your pets with preventive insecticides designed to keep fleas and ticks away.

Wash your bedding regularly and take extra care when staying in hotels and other facilities where you may be exposed to bed bugs.

Prevent scabies by avoiding skin-to-skin contact with an infested individual. Be sure to practice safe hygiene and sexual practices with others.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you wake up with deep scratches that bleed heavily or appear infected, you should see a healthcare provider for treatment. Certain medications to treat the underlying cause of the scratches may require a prescription from your provider.

Consider medical guidance if you are sleepwalking or experience other parasomnias that put you at risk of a fall or other traumatic injuries.


Waking up with scratches on your body simply can be caused by a reaction to a new cleanser, dry skin, or stress. If scratches appear with bug bites or systemic (throughout the body) symptoms, or you have reason to believe you suffered a traumatic injury from sleepwalking, talk to your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

It can be alarming to wake up with scratches without knowing where they came from. Sometimes the cause of the scratches is clear, while other times, it may require more investigation or a discussion with a healthcare provider. In most cases, the cause of the scratches is treatable.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are red lines on the skin that look like scratches?

    Red lines on the skin that look like scratches could be scratches. In some instances, rashes or underlying conditions can cause red lines to appear on the skin.

  • How long do scratch marks take to go away?

    Most of the time scratch marks go away on their own. If you have scratch marks that don't go away or worsen, talk to your healthcare provider as it could be a sign of something more serious like an allergy or pest infestation.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lavery MJ, Stull C, Kinney MO, Yosipovitch G. Nocturnal pruritus: The battle for a peaceful night's sleepInt J Mol Sci. March 2016;17(3):425. doi:10.3390/ijms17030425

  2. MedlinePlus. Itching.

  3. American Osteopathic Association of Dermatology. Dermatographism.

  4. Nobles T, Muse ME, Schmieder GJ. Dermatographism.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 10 reasons your skin itches uncontrollably and how to get relief.

  6. American Sleep Association. Sleepwalking: Facts, causes, symptoms, and treatment.

  7. Nigam G, et al. Sleep-related scratching: A distinct parasomnia? J Clin Sleep Med. January 2016;12(01). doi:10.5664/jcsm.5416

  8. Potter MF, Koehler PG. Invisible itches: Insect and non-insect causes. University of Florida.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.