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Baby Medical Q&A, Issue #085 Head Banging
November 01, 2013

Welcome to another edition of Baby Medical Q&A News.

Head banging update

This month I am going to revisit a common sleep disturbance - head banging.

Head banging and body rocking are the symptoms most commonly seen in what is known as "Rhythmic Movement Disorder". This is not uncommon in pre-school children but does cause concern.

Here is a recent question about a child with head banging:


The child who is 4 and a half has rocked with his head and shoulders and rest of body following since he was old enough to do this. He kind of thrashes from side to side and if heís doing this by a wall the banging can be heard in another room. He only does this in his sleep but Dad describes it seems to be worse when heís unsettled and drifting towards a deeper sleep. It ís significant to keep his Dad awake all night when has slept with him when sick. When the child is asked why he does it he says his head is sore and rocking will get it all back in. The parents have been expecting him to grow out of it by now. They are keen to know if heís getting a decent sleep or if the movement mean he doesn't sleep well and if there is anything they can do.


Head banging and body rocking are common in children from about 6-9 months of age. Usually, the behavior resolves spontaneously in most children by school age. However, about 5% of children will still have head banging or body rocking at 5 years of age.

Although it looks as if the child will injure themselves, this is extremely unlikely, particularly if the child has no other medical problems. Characteristically, the behaviours occur prior to the child falling asleep. Sometimes, children may hum or make other noises along with the body movements.

I do not advise adding pillows or other cushioning devices to protect the child from injury as these haven't been shown to make a difference in this condition and they are a suffocation hazard, particularly for young infants.

There are no long term consequences to this behavior and there is no need for concern. Children are not aware of the behavior and therefore there is little to be gained from asking them about it.

Like all behaviors that are unwanted (by the parent), ignoring the behavior is the best strategy. That includes not being seen at the time of the behavior and not being heard talking about it at any time. So if you feel you need to check your child is safe, do so in an unobtrusive way way and don't make a fuss.

Most children will get enough sleep, even if it means sleeping in the day, so if children have lots of energy in the day and are not napping more than usual, then you can be reassured that they are getting enough sleep.

If your child has a developmental disorder or is autistic then head banging may be more prolonged and mre extreme. In this case, referral would be appropriate, particularly if there has been an injury.

For more information on sleep disorders in children, see the Sleep page.

Useful Website:

Cleveland Clinic Patient Information

Please feel free to share this ezine with family and friends.

Till next time,

Dr Maud

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