Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Sleep Rhythmic Movement – Overview & Facts

Sleep related rhythmic movement disorder (RMD) involves repeated body movements. They occur while drowsy or asleep. It is typically seen in children. Rhythmic humming or other sounds are sometimes made along with the body motions. These sounds can be quite loud.

Following are the three types of RMD:
  1. Body rocking - The child may rock his entire body while on hands and knees. It may also occur when he rocks his upper body while sitting up.
  2. Head banging - This often occurs with the child lying face down. He lifts his head or entire upper body. Then he forcibly bangs the head back down into the pillow or mattress. This action is repeated over and over again. It may also occur when the child is sitting up. He will bang the back of his head against the wall or headboard one time after another.Body rocking and head banging may also be combined. The child will rock on hands and knees.  At the same time, he will bang the front of his head into the wall or headboard.
  3. Head rolling - The head is rolled back and forth. The child is normally lying on his back.Head banging is the most disturbing form of the problem. Typical cases in infants and toddlers pose little risk of serious injury. Strong motions can cause loud noises when the child hits the bed frame. The bed may also bang against the wall or scrape the floor. 
The noises can greatly distress other family members. It is normal for a parent to be concerned. No cases of serious injury caused by RMD have been found. It is important for parents to discuss the child’s actions with other caretakers, family members, or baby sitters.

Less common rhythmic movement forms include the following:
  • Body rolling
  • Leg banging
  • Leg rolling
Episodes often occur when the child is almost asleep. They may also occur at any point in the night. At times, they may even happen during quiet activities when the child is awake. He or she may be listening to music or riding in a car.

The rate may vary, but the actions are rapid. One or two motions tend to occur every one or two seconds. An episode will often last up to 15 minutes. The motions may stop when a noise, movement or voice disturbs the child. Children who are old enough to talk will usually not recall the event in the morning.

These actions are common in normal infants and children. These motions alone do not qualify as a disorder. It is only a disorder if the actions severely injure the child or greatly disturb his or her sleep. 
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