If you’re waking up with unexplained scratches or 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 scratching yourself while you sleep.

However, there are also rashes and skin conditions that can sometimes resemble scratch marks.

If the scratch marks on your body appear to have been made by fingernails, 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, such as your face, shoulders, or chest.

You’ll be more likely to scratch yourself if you have a preexisting skin condition that causes itchiness. However, itching while you sleep can sometimes be its own sleep disorder. When a person demonstrates unusual activity while they’re sleeping, it’s known as parasomnia.

This issue of scratching oneself while sleeping can be aggravated by having sharp or long fingernails. On the bright side, most surface-level scratches shouldn’t cause permanent damage to the skin.

It’s also possible that someone or something sharing your bed is scratching you.

If you share a bed with a person, dog, or cat, you could get scratch marks from them during the night. You could also 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 places, another person or a pet could be the culprit.

Scratches from pets, particularly cats, can cause disease. Cats can cause the infection cat scratch fever, which can lead to blistering, fatigue, or fever.

In dermatographia, or skin writing, your skin has an outsized reaction to light scratching, rubbing, or pressure.

The skin surrounding scratches, even very light scratches, becomes red and raised. The raised marks will usually go away on their own within 30 minutes or so.

This condition is harmless and affects about 2 to 5 percent of the population.

The rare skin condition flagellate erythema can sometimes cause scratch-like marks. It’s a rash that often follows chemotherapy, but can also be caused by other factors, such as eating shiitake mushrooms.

Rashes from flagellate erythema will often be very itchy. In most cases, they appear on your back.

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.

Your skin can also break out in hives as an allergic reaction to you eating certain kinds of food. Hives appear as 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.

Normal scratching during the night or dermatographia typically won’t leave long-lasting or deep scratch marks, and most skin rashes won’t resemble a deep scratch.

If you’re waking up with deep or bleeding scratches, there could be a few explanations. 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

Treatment or prevention methods for unexplained scratches depends on their cause.

Prevent self-scratching in your sleep

First, 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 you rule out self-scratching, they could be coming from a person or pet 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. Daily antihistamines can help to curb dermatographia, but some scratch marks may not require treatment.

However, in some cases, an underlying skin condition may be to blame. Speak with a dermatologist or doctor if the scratch marks:

Scratch-like rashes from some conditions, such as flagellate erythema, will usually go away on their own in time. In cases of severe rashes, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids.

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. Dermatographia causes even very light scratches to produce raised 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 an itchy feeling, talk to a dermatologist or doctor for a specific diagnosis and treatment plan.