01/30/2012 01:02 pm ET

Your Sleep Questions Answered: Rhythmic Movement Disorder

Rhythmic Movement Disorder is a common sleep disorder. It frequently affects infants and small children, and usually subsides by the age of 5. We scoured the Web to find answers to some frequently asked questions about RMD, giving you background information so that you or your loved one can literally sleep better at night.

Note: You should not rely on the information in this post as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Jason O'Bryan

Rhythmic Movement Disorder

A MedLink clinical summary defines rhythmic movement disorder as "repetitive stereotyped movements of the head or body, such as head banging and head or body rolling or rocking, that involve large muscle groups" and that "usually occur during sleep or at the wake-sleep transition."


According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the signs of rhythmic movement disorder are very specific. They are body rocking, in which "the child may rock his entire body while on hands and knees" or while sitting up; head banging, in which the patient "forcibly bangs the head back down into the pillow or mattress" over and over; and head rolling, in which the "head is rolled back and forth" while supine.


A diagnostic overview published in the medical journal Chest explains that the "soothing effect of vestibular stimulation" -- that is, balance that comes from the inner ear -- has been proposed as a cause of rhythmic sleep disorder, along with "stress and a lack of environmental stimulation."

Standard Treatments

According to SleepDex.org, rhythmic sleep disorder is a "self-limited condition that does not require treatment." In rare cases that the movements are severe or violent, "use of protective padding in the crib or bed is often helpful," and in extreme cases, "treatment using clonazepam, citalopram, and behavioral modification techniques has also been reported." A paper published in Chest also recommends hypnosis if the symptoms don't go away on their own.


RMD is not life-threatening. A study published in Primary Psychiatry states that movements associated with rhythmic movement disorder are so common, they appear in "a majority of infants." Some doctors only classify it as a "disorder" if it persists past age 4 or 5, or if the child is injured because of movements during sleep. While the movements can sometimes be so violent as to cause injury, SleepEducation.com says that "no cases of serious injury caused by RMD have been found."

Quality Of Life

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine acknowledges that rhythmic movement disorder can interfere with sleep, cause grumpiness or sleepiness during the day and even cause self-inflicted injury.

Have you ever suffered from a sleep disorder? What advice worked for you?