If you’re waking up with scratches or unexplained scratch-like marks on your body, there could be a number of possible causes. The most likely reason for the appearance of scratches is that you’re unknowingly or accidentally scratching yourself in your sleep.
However, there are a number of rashes and skin conditions that can sometimes appear similar to scratch marks.
If the scratch marks on your body appear to have been made by nails, the most likely explanation is that you unknowingly scratched yourself in your sleep. Self-made scratches will most likely show up in easy-to-reach places like your:
You’ll be more likely to scratch yourself if you have a preexisting skin condition that causes itchiness. However, itching while asleep can sometimes be its own parasomnia (unusual behavior of the nervous system while sleeping).
This issue of scratching oneself while sleeping can be exacerbated by having sharp or long fingernails. Fortunately, most surface-level scratches should not cause permanent damage to the skin.
It’s also possible that someone sharing your bed or a pet is scratching you. If you share a bed with a person, dog, or cat, you could get scratch marks from them during the night. Or you could be getting scratched during the day and not noticing the marks until the morning.
If you’re waking up with scratches on your back or other hard to reach body places, a pet or another person could be the culprit.
Scratches from pets, particularly cats, can cause disease. Cats can cause cat scratch fever and lead to:
Sometimes, different skin conditions and irritations can look like scratches, with two, three, or more parallel red lines running across your skin.
People who have dermatographia, or skin writing, experience this phenomenon frequently. In this condition, which affects about 2 to 5 percent of the population, even a very light scratch will cause the skin to become red and raised.
These raised, scratch-like marks will usually go away on their own within 30 minutes or so.
Flagellate erythema is another skin condition that can sometimes look like scratch marks. It’s a rash that often follows chemotherapy but can also be caused by other factors, like eating Shiitake mushrooms.
Rashes from flagellate erythema will often:
- look like scratch marks
- be very itchy
- appear on your back (in most cases)
There are a number of other skin conditions and rashes that could be mistaken for scratch marks depending on their shape.
Rashes are usually caused by skin contact with some kind of irritant or allergen, or from taking certain medications. Skin can also break out in hives as an allergic reaction to eating certain kinds of food.
Hives are raised bumps or spots but a cluster of hives could be mistaken for scratches.
If you wake up with itchy scratch marks, they could be a rash, as most rashes are itchy.
Though some people claim unexplained rashes are evidence of paranormal activity, there’s no scientific research to support this.
If you’re waking up with deep or bleeding scratches, there could be a few explanations.
Dermatographia (or normal scratching during the night) typically won’t leave long-lasting or deep scratch marks, and most skin rashes won’t resemble a deep scratch.
Severe scratch marks when you wake up could be caused by:
- injuries from sleepwalking
- intense itchiness from a skin condition
- very long or untrimmed fingernails
- deep scratching from a pet
The treatment or prevention of unexplained scratches depends on the cause.
Prevent self-scratching in your sleep
Try wearing soft cotton gloves to sleep or filing off the sharp edges from your fingernails. If the scratch marks stop appearing when you wake up, you were likely scratching yourself.
If scratching yourself in your sleep is a recurring problem, consider seeing a sleep specialist to diagnose a potential parasomnia.
Look for reasons beyond self-scratching
If the scratches still appear (after ruling out self-scratching), they could be coming from a pet or person that shares your bed. Try sleeping alone temporarily or altering your sleep environment to prevent accidental scratches.
Determine the severity of the scratches
If you wake up with scratch marks and they quickly fade away on their own, they could simply be from dermatographia or just light scratching while you sleep. In this case, they may not require treatment.
There may, however, be an underlying skin condition to blame. See a dermatologist if the scratch marks:
- take a long time to heal
- look infected
Scratch-like rashes from flagellate erythema, for example, will usually go away on their own in time. But in severe cases, your doctor may prescribe steroids.
Scratches on your face, hands, or body when you wake up are usually caused by scratching yourself while asleep. You may have a skin condition that’s causing intense itchiness at night, or you may have dermatographia which causes even very light scratches to produce red marks.
Another possibility is that you have a skin condition or rash that looks like a scratch. Flagellate erythema is one possibility, but many rashes can sometimes give the appearance of scratch marks.
If the scratch marks are causing you pain, irritation, or itching, visit your doctor or dermatologist for a specific diagnosis and treatment plan.