Is Head Banging and Body Rocking Normal?

Let’s face it. Settling down for a good night’s sleep or nap isn’t all lullabies, cuddles and peaceful breathing for some of our little ones. Sometimes, it looks more like head-banging, body-rocking, rolling around as their usual bed time behaviour routine. It’s easy to see these bedtime behaviours as “bad” or “destructive” but the simple truth is that most of the time this conduct is just bub trying to settle themselves to sleep. That said, if your child is rocking on all fours or hitting their head on the bed or cot it can be scary, and you might wonder whether there’s something more sinister triggering this behaviour. So, here we look at some common examples of “bad” bedtime behaviour, what causes it, when you can expect it to stop and what you can do to handle it – if only for your peace of mind!

Why is my child acting like this?

Believe it or not, it’s incredibly common for toddlers and children display behaviour like rolling, body-rocking and head-banging when they’re drifting off to dreamland. You might even notice it happening if they wake up during the night! These behaviours come in many different forms, for example:
  • Lying face down and thumping their head and chest into their pillow or mattress,
  • Sitting upright in bed and banging their head against the headboard,
  • Rocking on their hands and knees and hitting their forehead on the edges of their cot; or,
  • Moving their head and body from side to side rhythmically (occasionally, they’ll make noises too!)
While as a parent these actions may be concerning, it’s important to remember many families experience this issue – and it’s a common way for children to fall asleep. They do it because the rhythmic movement comforts and soothes them.

Will they ever grow out of it?

Head-banging or rolling, body rocking and rhythmic movements will eventually go away. Starting at 6 to 9 months of age, we usually see children stop this behaviour by the time they are 5 years old. Occasionally, it’ll stick around for a little longer.

How do I handle this behaviour as a parent?

As these bedtime behaviours are common and aren’t permanent, many parents are content with putting up with it until it resolves itself. However, there are some things you can do to encourage your child to overcome this conduct themselves and reduce any risks while you allow them to learn. Here’s our top recommendations:
  1. Make sure their sleeping arrangements are safe – As parents, our first and foremost concern is naturally ensuring bub is safe and sound. That means making sure you check and tighten all bolts and screws in their bed or cot. Other safety measures you could take include removing hard surfaces from the vicinity of their sleeping space (including bedside tables), installing a guard rail if they’re in a bed so they don’t fall out and ensuring there aren’t any walls close-by.
  2. Try not to give the behaviour attention – Bedtime behaviour such as this may be an attention-seeking issue, so ensure you’re giving your child lots of attention during daytime and ignoring it when it’s time to sleep. Try your best not to visit your little one while they’re head banging, rocking or rolling, even if you’re just telling them to stop it! You might just give them the attention they need to keep going.
  3. Resist the urge to pad their sleep space – Extra padding like blankets, pillows or bumpers are usually ineffective. Additionally, adding these to a cot can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and sleeping accidents.
  4. Re-think bub’s bedtime – Sometimes, putting your child to bed too early before they fall asleep might result in these behaviours. Think about how long they spend in their sleeping space before they actually drift off and reassess from there!

When should I be worried?

As you now know, body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging are all very common ways children self soothe and get themselves to sleep. But, occasionally they can point to a bigger issue at play. Sometimes, sleep issues such as these can indicate your child is experiencing an emotional problem, stress or anxiety. It’s important to remember this isn’t always the case, but good to keep in mind. If your child displays these behaviours a lot and snores when they’re asleep, it might be time to check in with your GP. They’ll make sure there’s no other health issues at play disrupting your little one’s sleep – for example obstructive sleep apnoea. Additionally, if your child has autism, a developmental delay or experiences blindness, these behaviours can be more intense, leaving bruises, redness or skin thickening at the site of impact. This level of intensity can become harmful. In these instances, it can be helpful to talk to your GP, and perhaps show them a video of the behaviour. That’s all you need to know about supposedly "bad" bedtime behaviour like body-rocking, head-banging or rolling! Now, you can approach bedtime ‘head’ on, equipped with an understanding of bub’s actions and comforted with the knowledge that it’s not usually a sign of any health or developmental problem. If you’re still worried about these behaviours and would like to discuss them in-depth with an expert, consider booking a consult with us! Check out our services here.
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