Rhythmic Movement Disorder


Sleep rhythmic movement disorder is a neurological disorder common in children manifest before and during sleep. Learn the types, symptoms, and treatment of RMD.

Rhythmic Movement Disorder

I know you are probably asking yourself, “What is rhythmic movement disorder?” Well, it is a neurological condition where the patient will rock his or her body in repetitive motion just before falling asleep or during sleep.

The body will include moving the following body parts: neck, arms or head. It is experienced mostly by children who seem to outgrow it by the age of 5. Some of these patients may also exhibit rhythmic humming along with body movements.

Types of RMD

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, rhythmic movement disorder (RMD), manifests in the three different ways listed below:

  • Body rocking

Here the child may rock only the upper body while he/she is sitting down or even go on hands and knees and rock the whole body.

  • Headbanging

Here the child will lie face down and then lift his or her head and bang it on the mattress or pillow. In some cases, the child may even lift his or her entire body and then forcibly bang it on the pillow or mattress.

The child will usually do this action repetitively. The child can even do it while sitting down on a sofa or floor and the bang the head against the wall or headboard.

  • Head rolling

In this case, the child in question will be laying on his or her back and then roll the head back and forth. This poses very little danger, especially to toddlers and infants.

Most of these RMD types occur when the child feels most sleepy. There are instances in which it occurs at different points during the night as the child is sleeping. Some children experience RMD when they are engaging in quiet activities during the day such as listening to music.

The rate of the RMD episodes may vary from one child to the next but the actions are usually very rapid with even two motions occurring every one or two seconds. 1 episode can last for as long as 15 minutes with motion stopping when something distracts the child. Most children who have reached the age of talking tend to forget the RMD events in the morning.

RMD is common in normal infants and toddlers and just having these motions do not qualify your child to have a disorder. A disorder is when the actions the child takes to result in him/her getting seriously injured or they disturb his/her sleeping greatly.

Symptoms of RMD in children

Symptoms of RMD in children

If you have a child with RMD he or she may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • The child may make repetitive movements with his/her body such as head rolling, head banging or body rocking.
  • The body motions mentioned above tend to occur when your child is feeling most sleepy or when he or she is actually asleep.
  • The child may experience sleep interruption and he/she may be very grumpy during the day.
  • The child can sometimes get hurt and suffer an injury that will require medical attention.

As a parent, you should try and find out whether there are other factors that are causing your child’s sleeping problems. The following are some other factors that could affect your child’s sleep:

  • The child might be having another medical condition.
  • The child might be suffering from another sleeping disorder.
  • The child might have a mental health disorder.
  • The child might be using medication that is affecting his or her sleep.

RMD has been recorded to occur at the same rate in both boys and girls. Studies show that this condition is likely to occur among family members and the children with this condition have higher anxiety levels.

This is a rare condition among adults and teens and those of these age groups suffering from RMD usually have an injury to the central nervous system, autism, pervasive development disorder or mental retardation. In such cases, the motions will occur when the person is awake.

Most children that experience RMD do not require medical assistance as it is a common part of how they develop their sleep process. It is, however, advisable to talk to your child’s physician about your concerns or you can take your child to a sleep specialist in case the motions caused bodily harm.

The doctor will need to know when the motions began and what else is happening in your child’s life before making a diagnosis. You will also be required to keep a sleep journal for your child for at least two weeks. This will help the professional to get an idea of what might be causing the motions.

There are no medical tests that can be used to detect whether your child has MRD. The only thing doctors can do is make the child do an overnight sleep monitoring in the event that the child exhibits severe motions. This study will check the child’s brain waves, breathing, and heartbeat.


The doctor may prescribe medication for the child if the movements are causing disturbance to the child or if they are causing the child to lose sleep or even causing injuries.

You should also install extra padding to the child’s bed and add railings to the bed or crib so as to protect the child from getting injured or falling off.

RMD in adults

This is not a common condition in adults but in the rare occasions that it does occur, it can be quite embarrassing for the patient. As long as it is not causing any bodily harm the patient should ensure that they use extra padding to protect him or her and also notify their sleeping partners so as not to alarm them when the motions start.

Most adults that have this condition usually suffer from it since they were children. If the symptoms only manifest once the person is an adult then there is a strong likelihood that he or she has suffered an injury to the central nervous system.


Rhythmic movement disorder is a condition that does not last for a long time as the child would have outgrown it by the age of 5. All you can do as a parent is to ensure that you provide the protection needed to ensure that child will not get hurt during the motion episodes.

You can make sure that you provide your child with a soft mattress and also give them head and neck pillows to provide the child with comfort as well as protecting them while they roll their heads.

It is important to pay attention to those adults who suffer from RMD and not shame them because it is not something that they chose.


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