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My Child Bangs His Head in Bed as He Sleeps

Filed in
  • children
  • parenting
  • Parasomnias

By Thomas M. Heffron  |  Jan 31, 2009
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For a parent it is one of the most disturbing sleep disorders. You hear a strange sound coming from your young son’s bedroom at night. So you go in his room to see what’s wrong.

You find your son banging his head into the pillow or mattress. He repeats this action over and over again. Or he may be sitting up, banging the back of his head against the wall or the headboard.

The bizarre sight may send a shock of fear through your body. But what you’re seeing is common, and it is rarely harmful.

Head banging during sleep is an example of sleep related rhythmic movement disorder. RMD is very common in healthy infants and children. It can occur in both boys and girls.

Another common form of RMD is body rocking. Your child may rock her entire body back and forth. She may be on her hands and knees or sitting up.

Head rolling is also common. While lying on his back, your child may roll his head back and forth.

Less common forms of RMD include body rolling, leg banging and leg rolling. All of these actions tend to be very rapid. An episode may last up to 15 minutes. During the motions your child may make rhythmic humming sounds.

The good news is that RMD tends to be harmless. It occurs as a young child’s brain and body continue to grow and develop.

RMD often begins when a child is about six months to nine months of age. It usually goes away by the second or third year of life.

Like many parasomnias, RMD tends to disturb the parent more than the child. Normally the child will have no memory of the event in the morning.

Talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned about RMD. Contact an AASM-accredited sleep center if RMD episodes injure your child or keep your child from sleeping well.

46 Comments

  1. 1 ed 17 Dec
    I did it until i was a teenage..then i thought, what if i sleep with a girl and i rock in the night. That made me stop doing it - i now have a daughter who's 2 and she does it too.
  2. 2 Madison 26 Nov
    My mom and I have been going to doctors and they always say it's stress and stuff I've been doing it since I was 5 months old and over the years it has got worse I'm now 13 and still have this I now know that I have RMD 
  3. 3 Jeff W. 25 Nov
    I did the head banging into my pillow and the kicking the bed while laying face down for the first 20-22 years of my life.  I did it to falls asleep and then would be awaken by my dad yelling my name when he was up getting ready for work in the early morning hours.  It was just very relaxing for me.  I also liked to rock even though the chairs I was sitting in were not rocking chairs.  
    I am now 53 years old and forced myself to not do it anymore because I would wake up roomates in college by doing it.  

  4. 4 DRE 23 Nov
    ive been what I call. Bumping my head against my pillow since I can remember.... I am now 37 and still bump my head..... simply..... puts me to sleep...
  5. 5 morgan 19 Oct
    i suffer with RMD. i am very embarrassed and insure about my special needs please help me. 
  6. 6 Lisa Evans 10 Oct
    I'd pull a pillow up under my shoulders and neck and "bump" for hours as a child until the age of 26. I always wondered if I'd been abused or had asbergers. My mom once asked the doctor who said it was normal but it was a horrible waste of energy and time. I'd "bump" head to music until I'd be too exhausted to stay awake. At 59 I have some really severe pain in my cervical spine where my head meets my neck. Neck and back pain is what cause me to stop. My lower back is also curved like I have swayback. I have to think at least some of this was caused by 26 years of wear and tear on the discs and joints. I have an advanced professional degree, look normal despite what I said but I'm unable to turn my neck freely to the right. X-rays show arthritis. I'm still very active despite pain because I've lived with it for so long. It's just hard to shit my mind off at night and my neck hurts. Otherwise my health is really good, weight normal just literally have a pain in my neck all the time. 
  7. 7 Felix hendrix 08 Oct
    I did since I was a baby up until my teens, I am 30 now I totally out grew it, I miss it though lol, I tried to do it today but I can't. When I stand I rock back and forth,  Ive done that my whole life. 
  8. 8 Ashley 29 Sep
    I started bumping my head when I was a baby till I was 26. I'm 30 and I want so bad to bump my head so instead I rock myself and my husband hates it. I stopped bumping my head because I didn't want my husband to think I was a weirdo, and also when I was in high school I formed a dark forehead from it. I would bump my head for hours listening to music then I would fall asleep. Sometimes I would Do it because I was stressed out and it soothed me. I honestly felt like I was damaging my brain because I had been doing it for so long. I started to get scared when I started to forget simple things
  9. 9 Bills 24 Sep
    I remember when I was in 5th grade I had to get braces and wear a night brace , I had to figure out how to continue bouncing by using a bigger pillow and clasping my hands , I don't believe i stopped until high school, my mother said my father rocked back and forth in bed on their honeymoon to fall asleep ,I always felt like it was because I was afraid of the dark or monsters under my bed ,anyway I'm a pretty normal person now 
  10. 10 Hunter 24 Sep
    i used to do it now im 20
  11. 11 Angel 15 Sep
    My son does this he will be two in December, he has done it since he was an infant, it started out as rolling his head from side to side, and now that he is able to sit up he rocks with his back to something and hums to himself. And also bonks his head in the mattress or pillow if his sleep is disturbed. I was reading a comment one lady left about problems with neighbors because of this behavior. I also have the same issues with my neighbors they actually bang on the floor and yell at him, which only makes it last longer. 
    I have tried explaining to them what he is doing and asking them to quit yelling at him and they won't, I sleep near him just because I don't want him to be alone while people are banging and yelling at him, I've had police come and one actually told me I need to control my child... I have tried everything to stop the behaviour and I've tried everything to make it safer and softer so ito not as loud, but he won't stop doing it. 
  12. 12 Nick 15 Sep
    I remember bouncing my head on my pillow as a child to fall asleep.  My mom told me I started as an infant.  I slightly remember doing it on my desk in second grade.  I'm 32 now and I'm not sure when I stopped bouncing my head to fall asleep,  I would assume some time in elementary school.  I still get comfort from motion/movement.  I love rocking in rocking chairs.  My wife sometimes reminds me to slow down a little.  While I'm in my car, I listen to music and kind of rock my head.  My parents never brought it up or seemed to concerned.  I would suggest to parents to not worry about it as long as it's not physically hurting them.  
  13. 13 Tabitha 01 Sep
    I've grown up with this problem as well but I never seen anything wrong with it it I just always looked at it as i'ma be a old lady who sits on the porch and rock . I just always looked at it as a calming thing physically and mentally . I'm a thinker ttill the point it would be hard for me to doze off so I figure rocking or banging my head will help calm my body physically meaning my body so feels energizes til the point i have to calm down so by time i banged my head and which is always for atleast 15 mins but body slow down by time my body slowed down i drifted off but mentally  my mind is still running so when I wake up I wake up on the go lol its crazy but I look at as harmless I feel like it's something that I waa meant to be born with but I can only speak for myself. Ikno my s.o try holding me rocking me to sleep that way we communicate well during those times my mom use to rock me on her lap so I guess instead of her complain about it she understood me n showed me in ways how to deal with it as if she was a doctor I guess mama knows best :)
  14. 14 Jordan 11 Aug
    I've done this since I was an infant and now I'm gonna be 15, I will be a freshman... every night before going to sleep , I bang my head on my pillow and slowly drift away to sleep and I've had some problems like dizziness and sometimes when I get up to walk, everything blacks out and I can't see. Over the years of growing up , I've been teaching myself to not bang my head. In the car and on a couch and in my bed I used to do it and I was embarrassed, but growing up I try to control myself and so now recently as I'm gonna be 15 I don't swing my head back and forth anymore or bump on a couch but every now and then I'll get angry and start bumping my head so fast cause it keeps me calm. Now all I really do is bump my head in the bed before I sleep and I try to move my legs but it's not the same but I do get side effects for doing this and I'm very sleepy now all the time. I'm scared I won't get over it. 
  15. 15 Jude 08 Aug

    I don't know when it started as no one ever talked about it, but I know I was banging my head until high school.  I was the tuck in a ball and roll forward to wack the top of my head on the wall type. 

    *** I am so deeply grateful to my parents that they never made a fuss!!! - they just got me a padded headboard rather than intervening.  I didn't even really know it was strange until my much older (8 & 10 yrs older) siblings pointed it out during an argument one day.

    As an adult with a partner I'd rub my feet against each other when it was the only path to sleep  (takes longer to settle in but works).  Eventually l got it down to where wrist circling and finger loosening (like you see piano players do), and while I suspect my husband of the last 30 years knows, he also doesn't bother asking questions about it (a wise guy) - it's just one of my funky quirks (PS: it has not been a determent to my life - graduated from Art school, was a successful business manger, graduated with honors from University in a set of academic programs, and have worked in a highly professional field for 20_ years).  I had my daughter over 25 years ago, and I think the Lamaze training helped with this sleep issue quite a bit as I will now do "labour exercises" tensing and releasing each muscle set while slow breathing 

  16. 16 reenz 17 Jul
    my son who is 2 1/2  bangs his head on pillow before he falls asleep. he sleeps well but wen he gets disturbed he does a few hard head banging on pillow... hes been doing this since 8months... hes a very active boy and doctors have not diagnosed him with any mental conditions such as ADH  or anything. He has however had febrile convulsions from his 1st year onwards. hes had a couple now...wonder if its related??ive tried talking/singing  to him in a soothing voice and rubbing his back and shoulders helps him to calm down and sleep better...ive read your guys input and Im worried that this might not go away as some of you are well into adulthood...yes hes a sensitive boy too , well ive spoiled him rotten as he is adopted...so wen he doesn't get his way he can be horrible believe me...ive been hit many times...im also afraid he can get arthritis of neck...im sure this is not normal but they keep saying it is....
  17. 17 Dave 13 Jul
    I'm going to be 50 next year, but would say the urge to bounce my head on the bead, or rock back and forth on a chair or even a couch, has never subsided.  Right now, I am typing this as I am rocking back and forth in a lazy boy. 

    I can remember when I was little, my bed had wheels on it. I would rock so hard and for such a lengthy tune that I would move the bed across the floor.  It has a calming and soothing effect for an over-active mind.

    Like some of the other comments, this has caused quite a lot of embarrassment over the years.  Of course I have had to temper this habit in bed since marriage.  I try to move my foot, but isn't quite the same.
  18. 18 DRC 01 Jul
    I have done this for as long as I can remember. I am almost 30 now. And I do believe I have a mild form of aspergers. It honestly for me and from my experiences over the years. Seems nothing more than a quick easy way to fall asleep. When I was younger I tended to headbang alot either when I was attempting to fall asleep or just to make myself feel better in the current moment. As I got older into my teens I noticed head banging didnt happen as much but me legs sure did. As I started to kick the bed while laying on my chest. Knee down my leg would kick for hours until the point I didnt even know if I was doing it or not as I would pass out. From what I can tell is this has always just been a way for my body to help my mind rest ot be put at ease. And sometimes seems like just a way to easily make yourself tired enough to sleep. Ultimately I have progressed to my current point foot rolling. As it makes very very little noise and I dont disturb anyone else in the house or even bed I am in. It has the exact same effect physically and mentally but alot less stressful to those around you. If anything I would try to show them a new silent way the same can be done. For example my foot rolling lol. Its laying on your chest like you would knee leg kick but you cross your feet not legs just feet cross them so one foot is under your other foot. Then you continue to roll your bottom foot along the foot thats on top. This allows me to get the exact same effects and feelings I get from a knee leg kick and headbangs without anyone else ever noticing. I hope this helps anyone else that may be having issues because of this.
  19. 19 Michelle 27 Jun
    My son started this at about 7 months old and still does, he's now 5. Ive received a ton of complaints by neighbors because it wakes them up at night. I had to move because security was coming to my apartment every week. It wakes me up constantly. I was woken up about 17 times last night, I'm so exhausted. I'm glad to know its not harming him, I was very worried about this. But also I want to know if there is anything I can do to stop this. We cant keep functioning this way.
  20. 20 David 22 Jun
    I'm 15 and I do this head banging thing. But I usually do it when I'm awake. I'm pretty sure I've done it in my sleep and it annoys my mom a slight bit. I dunno it's just... kinda fun I guess.
  21. 21 KY 19 Jun
    Sorry about my spelling errors, I was on a rant and didn't spell check because I was rocking myself during that speech.
  22. 22 KY 19 Jun
    I've been doing it since I was an infant, head banging on my pillow and rocking and humming making up my own songs. We were a port family, so I shared a room with my sisters, and they later told me they couldn't fall asleep without my hums. I was told recently it may be beachside of autism, but my grandma, genius cousin and I with a 140 IQ all did the same thing. I read articles and found out if we don't do it during the day, just at night to cure insomnia(which is common with smart people, or thinkers)  it's not a disorder. I was always afraid I could never have a wife because she wouldn't except me if I banged my head in the middle of the night, and it broke my heart. I've been in a couple long-term relationships in which my ladies woke me up while I was banging my head half-way through the night, and they woke me up so I didn't hurt myself during the ages of 20-30. It never stopped with me, and I'm ashamed of telling my SO all the time. But now I can, now we have research we are normal people. I'm not afraid, and niether should you or your spouses. Just let them know the facts and they should except you, if they don't, F them. We are not stupid, just got a horrible genetic case of being smarter and more thoughtful than them 😘
  23. 23 ALL-NIGHT-LONG 13 Jun
    52YO and still banging my head [luv it], now in my 45th year!
    :-)
    Its a bad habit, and the only way i can get myself to sleep
  24. 24 richard 22 May
    This subject is something I have never thought about asking my parents about. I used to do it when I was about 7 or 8 and remember my brother calling out to stop me. My parents are no longer around so I will never know if they were concerned or not. I only started researching it recently because of somebody mentioning his brother used to do it and intersetingly both the brother and I have been playing drums for most of our lives. I wonder if there is a connection....? 
  25. 25 Elena 10 May
    My daughter did this since she was one year old and now she is 3.5 and still does it - she is more aware of it now. When I caress her and she almost falls asleep without the banging, she then still asks me to leave the room so she can do her thing. 

    I noticed also that she is a highly sensitive child, there are many resources about this online. But I wanted to ask the adults that do the body/head banding, or parents of children. Do you consider yourself or your child to be a highly sensitive person? 
  26. 26 Arius 06 May
    I am 23 and I've been banging my head since I was 7 I wake up every morning with very bad head pain my head hurts so bad I cry. I've already been to a sleep study. My head banging is getting worse and worse. It's getting very annoying I don't even like to sleep cause I know I will be banging my head and waking up with my Head in pain. What can I do
  27. 27 Clancy Lewis 17 Apr
    I am ten and I still do it. It really annoys every one in my family. It just makes me get to sleep. I usually don't do it if I'm with my friends. But once I did it at school camp and it was enbarresing. I also did it while camping and mum and dad nearly kicked me out of the caravan
  28. 28 Nicasio, Caleb 02 Feb
    I've been doing this since I was an infant, I am now 17 years old. I don't know why I do this now, it is out of habit. I place a pillow, put my hands under it, and bang my head. I haven't done it for a while but I have began to do so once again. I usually do it when I can't sleep and I have body energy, then I do it until I feel like sleeping. I also rock my head back and forth in the car hitting the headboard. I know this isn't normal at my age but I want to know why I do this. 
  29. 29 Dave 31 Dec
    I had the head rolling as a child and continued  into my late teens.  I did this before bed while listening to music.  I now have sloght arthritis in my neck.  My child now does the body and head roll while sitting and listening to music and gets on his hand and knees during sleep and bamga his head on the pillows.
    Just my input.
  30. 30 AASM 05 Dec
    Jeremy - Typical cases in infants and toddlers pose little risk of serious injury. But you should consider safety precautions for your son - such as using a padded headboard on his bed. Be sure to talk to his doctor about his head banging.
  31. 31 Jeremy 30 Nov
    My son (2 y.o.) while sleeping on his stomach with his legs tucked under him (kneeling in a way) rocks back and forward backing the top of his head on the head of his bed or the wall.  Typically my wife and I will run in and re-position him to stop.  This typically has to be done twice a night.  We are worried about brain damage and concussions because he is hitting the top of his head.  Is there a risk for these for his particular type of RMD (parent diagnosed at the moment)?
  32. 32 Bryan 24 Nov
    I also started this about five years and now 50and if I don't drink 3 beers before I go to bedI still do. spent 10 years  getting my butt beat or a belt whipping because of this mighta been living in a disrupted home that caused it to but they called it my bad habit but I was always sleeping and didn't know it was going on but I'll live through it anyway a lot of good input on this site thanks for all the the people sharing on this site that I might be somewhat normal
  33. 33 AASM 18 Oct
    Joshua - Little is known about the hereditary nature of RMD. However, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders states, "A familial pattern has been reported rarely, as has occurrence in identical twins."
  34. 34 Joshua Reil 18 Oct
    I did this and still do occasionally. I was definitely the outcast of the family because of this. It's nice to know I wasn't crazy. My youngest son and Daughter now do the same thing. Can anyone tell me if it's hereditary?
  35. 35 Katie Donovan 02 Mar
    I am 35. I have been doing this since I was an infant.
    The reason I do it now is the same as always:
    I'm trying to feel better.
    There's something bothering my head or my stomach.
    When I do this, it is as effective as any medicine at relieving my symptoms.
    The academics haven't one CLUE as to why this occurs or how it helps.
    These ones here, for instance, are telling you as though it's fact that people "grow out of" it.
    The only thing that really happens is when a person begins to sleep regularly in the company of others, embarrassment leads to a cessation of the activity.
    With no siblings and no other close relationships in my life, I am free to continue, so I do.
    But you need to know this IS normal.
    It is a regular part of the human condition.
    While I'm sure a pharmaceutical company would be glad to sell you a pill for it, don't buy that trash, and don't put it into your body for something like this.
  36. 36 Mommy 21 Jan
    Our 3 year old son has "bounced" since he could sit up on his own. He sits against the wall on his bed (or his crib when he was smaller) and 'bounces' to fall asleep and sometimes when he wakes up in the morning or after his nap. It weirded us out at first, but now we can sleep through it unless he's loud. When we wake him while he's doing this we just lay him  back downon his pillow and he sleeps. It's kinda like people who sleep walk. We've been to two pediatricians, he's on par with all his  growth and development. When we asked about his bouncing habit (lol) one doc had never heard of this and the other totally brushed it off as normal/common and said he'll grow out of it. If it's so common how is it that no one we talk to has ever heard of it? Arrrg. I just want to know that he's getting good sleep, he's still little so he can't tell us why he does it (yet). 
  37. 37 david 14 Jan
    I banged my head since being a child upto 17yrs. Recently ive started to do it again i am 47yr old .y is this happening.i carnt even sleep in same bed as my partner now.i darent tell my doctor as i think he will just laugh and its getting me down
  38. 38 Head Banger 05 Jan
    I bumped my head until I was 18.  My sister hated it.  I stopped when I went to college.  You could yell at me, but eventually I would start again or do it when I woke up in the middle of the night.  It was just soothing, but when I changed my environment and my bed, I didn't do it anymore. 
  39. 39 Meh 01 Jan
    My brother still bangs his head against the pillow when he lays on his stomach at night. He's 12 is this still the same disorder? 
  40. 40 Siani 01 Aug
    MY BROTHER WONT STOP BANGING HIS HEAD AT NIGHT OR THROUGHOUT THE DAY ITS SO ANNOYING and when me or my parents ask him to stop he gets mad, I read it usually occurs in younger children but he's 7 YEARS OLD! is it still normal or is something wrong?????????????
  41. 41 Gillette Sleep Health MN 23 Sep
    For older kids and adults:   If you are actively working with a sleep specialist on improving a Rhythmic Movement Disorder, try using an activity tracker (accelerometer or actigraph) to document your progress over the weeks/months.  Use the device for 1-2 weeks before and after any medication trials or cognitive-behavioral or "self-regulation" interventions.  LW
  42. 42 Gillette Sleep Health MN 23 Sep
    With older elementary-high school aged patients, we have had some anecdotal success in many cases, using a cognitive -behavioral approach and/or medical hypnosis/relaxation strategies, with biofeedback (much like therapeutic interventions for habit disorders or in this case, a particular type of "sleep-onset association disorder").  That is, we take the skill-building approach that the child or teen "only knows one way" to fall to sleep at bedtime, or fall back to sleep after a normal awakening at night, and he or she can learn some new options that will be less disturbing for family members and more restful and relaxing for him or herself.  LW
  43. 43 AASM 07 May
    The best treatment options for RMD that persists into adolescence and adulthood have not yet been identified. "Drug treatment of RMD has not been systematically studied in children, and a few isolated case reports address pharmacotherapy for this population. Clonazepam, oxazepam, and citalopram have been used with variable success.” (Mattewal A, Casturi L, Subramanian S. J Clin Sleep Med. 2010 Feb 15;6(1):97-100.) Be sure to discuss this problem with your doctor or your child's doctor.
  44. 44 AASM 07 May
    Your frustration is certainly understandable. And you are both right - rhythmic movement disorder can persist into late childhood and into adulthood.  Unfortunately, this form of "persistent" RMD is poorly understood. In some cases it may occur with another sleep disorder - such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea - and may improve when that sleep disorder is treated.

    There also is some evidence of a possible connection with ADHD. (Stepanova I, Nevsimalova S, Hanusova J. Rhythmic Movement Disorder in Sleep Persisting into Childhood and Adulthood. SLEEP 2005;28(7): 851-857.)
  45. 45 A Mom 17 Mar
    No- not helpful.  My daughter is 7 and shows no signs of slowing down.  She rolls her body from side to side every night- I can always tell how bad it's been by how hard it is to brush her hair in the morning.  It causes a lot of frustration, and I have seen a couple of articles saying it might be related to ADD, which she also has.  All the articles I read say the same thing- they grow out of it by age 5.  Well, they don't- and I'd like more info. 
  46. 46 stephen novick 24 Apr
    not very helpful... Through childhood..into becoming an adult...would tuck my hands, palm up, under my thighs..body would be quite rigid..and I would rock from side to side.. perspiring.. for hours.. no touching either...would recoil frankly. Kind of made intimacy problematic, you think?

    This hardly feels 'normal'.

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