Sleep issues: body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging

It’s common and normal 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.

Your child might:

  • get on all fours and rock back and forth, hitting her forehead on the headboard or edges of the cot
  • sit in bed and bang her head backwards against the headboard
  • lie face down and bang her head and chest into the pillow or mattress
  • lie on her back and move her head or body from side to side
  • make noises while she’s 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.
  • Try to pay no attention to the behaviour. Your child might behave this way more if he sees it’s a good way to get your attention or get you to come into the bedroom (even if it’s only to tell him 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 she bangs her head.

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 GP. The GP will check for things that might be disturbing your child’s sleep, like obstructive sleep apnoea.

For some children, body-rocking and head-banging can be particularly intense. This includes children with developmental delay, autism spectrum disorder 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 some anxiety or stress during the day. But rocking, banging or rolling doesn’t mean your child has an emotional problem.