Head banging is a type of rhythmic movement that healthy infants and children may use to fall asleep at the beginning of the night and during normal nighttime arousals in the middle of the night. Other similar rhythmic behaviors include body rolling or body rocking. Common scenarios:
- Being on their hands and knees and hitting their head repeatedly on the pillow
- Hitting the back of their head against the wall, crib or headboard
- Rolling from side to side
- Humming or moaning with these movements
Is this disturbing to the parents? Yes. Is this abnormal? Most often no.
Soothing, repetitive movements
Many normal children find these repetitive movements soothing and only engage in these behaviors at night. Parents fear that they will hurt their heads with the banging, but they won’t.
It is important to make sure they won’t fall out of bed. Decreasing the amount of noise by moving the bed or crib away from the wall or tightening screws on the bed frame may keep the rest of the household from waking up in the middle of the night. It is also essential to not draw attention to the head banging — if your child is otherwise healthy and normal, it is best to ignore the nighttime behavior.
Most children outgrow the head banging and body rocking by age 5; however these rhythmic movements have been seen in adolescents and adults as well.
When should parents worry?
Children with developmental disorders such as autism may have these rhythmic, repetitive movements during both the day and night. Sometimes, children have other sleep disorders that make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, and they use head banging to help them sleep. These children and other children who raise concern should be seen by a pediatric sleep specialist for evaluation.
- Louella Amos, MD, pediatric sleep specialist, Sleep Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
The Sleep Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the only sleep center in the state dedicated solely to the care of children and teens. The center has two locations (Milwaukee and New Berlin) both accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and staffed by board-certified pediatric sleep specialists.