Sleep issues: body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging
It’s common to see young children body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging at bedtime or during the night. They do it because it’s rhythmic, and it comforts and soothes them.
- get on all fours and rock back and forth, hitting their foreheads on the headboard or edges of the cot
- sit in bed and bang their heads backwards against the headboard
- lie face down and bang their heads and chests into the pillow or mattress
- lie on their backs and move their heads or bodies from side to side
- make noises while they’re rocking.
Body-rocking often starts around six months of age. Head-rolling and head-banging usually start at around nine months of age. Most children stop this behaviour by five years, but occasionally it keeps going after this.
Simple tips to handle body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging at bedtime
If your child is developing well in all other ways, you might decide to put up with the body-rocking, head-rolling or head-banging. This behaviour will eventually go away.
Here are some other ideas that might help:
- Think about how long your child is spending in bed before falling asleep. Too much time awake in bed might result in head-banging and body-rocking.
- Avoid giving the behaviour your attention. Children might behave this way more if they see it’s a good way to get attention or to get their parents to come into the bedroom (even if it’s only to tell them to stop).
- If your child is in a bed, remove bedside tables or other hard surfaces, and move the bed well away from walls. This will help to stop bruising or thickening of your child’s skin in the spot where they bang their head.
If your baby is in a cot, don’t use bumpers, quilts, pillows or other padding around your baby’s cot. These increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SUDI) including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents.
When to get help for rocking, rolling and banging
If this behaviour happens a lot through the night and your child also snores, it’s a good idea to talk with your child’s GP. The GP will check for things that might be disturbing your child’s sleep, like obstructive sleep apnoea.
Head-banging might result in red marks, slight bruising or skin thickening on children’s heads. For most children, this doesn’t cause any serious or permanent injury. But body-rocking and head-banging can be particularly intense in some children, including children with developmental delay, autism or blindness. These children are also more likely to rock or bang during the day. For these children, the rocking and banging can be harmful.
If you’re really worried about your child’s rocking or about other areas in your child’s development, talk to your child’s GP or child and family health nurse. It’s a good idea to take a video of the behaviour to show the GP or nurse.
Sometimes children rock, roll and bang their heads more if they’re experiencing anxiety or stress during the day. But rocking, banging or rolling doesn’t mean your child has an emotional problem.