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American Family Children's Hospital

Head Banging, Body Rocking and Head Rolling

Head banging, body rocking and head rolling are known as sleep-related rhythmic movement behaviors. Body rocking consists of moving back and forward, usually while on hands or knees.


Body rolling involves moving the entire body from side to side. These movements are repetitive, and they usually occur when falling asleep, at naptime, bedtime or following nighttime awakenings. Some children hum or make repetitive sounds at the same time. The movements seem to help a child fall asleep and many children experience them as soothing. These behaviors are extremely common in young children, with most children starting these behaviors between the ages of 9 months and 2 years.


In most instances, rhythmic movement behaviors are meaningless and harmless. In addition, sleep is not very disrupted as a result of these movements. Although sometimes distressing to parents, significant injury is very rare. In addition, these behaviors typically occur in normally developing children. If your child is healthy and developing normally, rocking to fall asleep should not be a cause for concern.


In most children, these behaviors disappear by themselves by around 5 years of age. Rarely, some individuals continue them into adulthood. Rhythmic movements are often distressing to parents and may disrupt the sleep of other family members.


In the meantime, consider the following:

  • Protect your child: Even if your child is banging his or her head hard, it is very unlikely that they will be hurt. There is no need to put extra bumpers on the crib or place pillows in strategic places. You should be advised that most children will find a way to continue to head bang or rock, no matter what creative tricks you try. Repetitive behaviors may also be a sign of autism spectrum disorder and in some cases lead to self-injury.
  • Be careful not to reinforce the behavior: If you go in to your child every time he or she starts to rock or head bang, you may be giving a lot of attention to and reinforcing the behavior without realizing it. Make sure your child gets a lot of attention during the day and ignore the head banging at night.
  • Move the crib or bed: Move the crib or the bed away from the wall if the banging or rocking is making noise and keeping the rest of the family awake. If your child is in a bed rather than a crib, put guardrails on all sides to prevent them from falling out of bed. If your child is making the crib or bed squeak, oil the screws and bolts. Also, be sure to tighten screws and bolts on a regular basis. The rocking or head banging can loosen them so make sure the crib is safe from loose screws.
  • Look for anything that disrupts your child’s sleep: Anything that disrupts your child’s sleep can increase the likelihood of rhythmic movements. So if your child snores or has any other sleep problems, talk to your child’s doctor.