Baby Head Banging to Fall Asleep

Updated 
January 29, 2024
 | 
12
 minutes read
Written by
Amanda Kule
Parent Contributor
Medically reviewed by
Arik Alper, MD
Pediatric Gastroenterologist and Aerodigestive Specialist

As your baby gets older, they will eventually figure out ways to help themselves relax and fall asleep without your support. For some babies, head banging to fall asleep is a means to self-soothe or deal with any anxiety that may revolve around bedtime.  

If your baby keeps banging their head while trying to fall asleep or during the night, don’t immediately worry—it’s often normal and developmentally appropriate. If you have any concerns about your baby banging their head, or curious if there are any signs on when you should worry about your baby banging their head, read on for information and advice straight from pediatricians and experts in baby sleep.

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What is Head Banging?

Head banging in babies is when a baby rhythmically and intentionally bangs their head on their crib, mattress, or another surface. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, rhythmic movements, which include head banging as well as body rocking and head rolling, are very common in healthy babies and children. They often grow out of it by age five.

Head banging to fall asleep is one way for a baby to self-soothe or emotionally regulate as they get ready to shut their eyes for the night, or to try and get themselves back to sleep if they wake. Rhythmic motions such as head banging may make them feel like they are back in the womb or being rocked to sleep by you.

Head banging against a crib or mattress at night can also be a way for babies to explore their environment. They simply may be curious about the sensation or sounds produced when they bang their head.

How Common Is Head Banging?

Head banging can be concerning for parents, but it's common and usually not a cause for alarm. Most babies who keep banging their head against their crib or another surface will grow out of it.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, head banging is one of the most common self-comforting habits in infancy, like thumb sucking. 59% off infants between 6 and 18 months have a rhythmic movement like head banging or thumb sucking, and it tends to decrease with age.

By 18 months of age head banging typically drops to 33%. It often goes away by two or three years of age. By five years of age, the rate is only 5%.

Why Do Babies Bang Their Heads While Sleeping?

There is no one cause for head banging in babies, or when a baby slams their head down. There are many reasons for why a baby makes repetitive or rhythmic motions such as head banging. Most are normal and not a concern.

Reasons why your baby may bang their head while sleeping include:

  • To Fall Asleep: Head banging often occurs when a baby is trying to fall asleep or starting to fall asleep, when they are drowsy but not fully asleep. It's also common for babies to head bang when they wake up during the night or during naptime, potentially to help them get back to sleep.
  • Self-Soothe: For many infants, head banging is a habit to self-soothe and comfort themselves like sucking their thumb. The rhythmic motion may be calming for them and help them relax. If they are having a tantrum, for example, they may head bang.
  • Anxious: Some experts think that rhythmic movements help a young child cope with any anxious feelings they may have.
  • Exploration: Babies are naturally curious and may use head banging to explore their environment. They might be testing the sensations and sounds produced by the action.
  • Attention Seeking: Some young children use head banging to get your attention. Before babies can speak, they often use other ways of communication.
  • Stimulation: Sleeping that head banging is one way to stimulate the vestibular system in the inner ear, which plays an important role in childhood development.  The vestibular system helps you stay balanced, know which way is up, and keep your eyes steady by sensing motion in your head and body and sending signals to your brain.

Head banging can be associated with different emotional and physical factors such as teething discomfort, frustration, anxiety, or developmental milestones. Some believe it is part of your child developing their sleep patterns. It’s often simply a habit to self-soothe.

Sometimes head banging can be related to an underlying condition. If your baby banging their head is disturbing their sleep or causing injury, speak to your pediatrician.

Why is my baby banging head on crib while sleeping?

If your baby finds comfort in head banging on a harder surface, banging their head on their crib or mattress may help them self-soothe as they fall asleep for a nap or night. This also can happen if they wake up between sleep cycles and are trying to settle themselves back to sleep.

When to Talk to the Doctor About Your Baby Banging Head

If head banging to fall asleep starts to interfere with your child’s sleep or ability to function during the day, or is done to hurt themselves or cause injury, speak to your doctor. Signs that it is affecting their daytime function include not being able to concentrate or pay attention during the day.

Sometimes head banging could be related to another condition. However, oftentimes cases of rhythm movements such as head banging don’t require treatment and your baby will grow out of it.

Many things about the reasons behind rhythmic movements such as head banging are still unknown, but your doctor may have more information or suggestions on what to do if you’re worried.

Tips to Help Improve Baby Sleep While Banging Head

If your baby is head banging to fall asleep but does not seem to be affected by it, there is no need to do anything—they will likely grow out of it.

Here are tips to further promote healthy sleep in your baby if they bang their head while sleeping:

  • Watch for sleepy cues: If your baby starts rubbing their eyes or yawning, take that as your sign that their circadian rhythm, or internal clock, says they are ready for sleep. When you put your baby to bed according to their natural sleep cycle, it may make it easier for them to settle themself. This could limit the amount of self-soothing, such as head banging against their crib, they may need to do before they fall asleep. The Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app was built to track your baby’s sleep patterns and figure out the exact time they’ll be ready for bed according to their circadian rhythm.
  • Create a safe sleep environment: Follow safe sleep guidelines for infants, which includes placing your baby on their back to sleep, using a firm crib mattress with a fitted sheet, and avoiding loose bedding, pillows, soft toys, or crib bumpers in the crib. Do not use crib bumpers even if your baby is head banging against their crib.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine: A consistent bedtime routine is proven to help your baby relax and wind down at bedtime. Sleep experts and pediatricians built the Smart Sleep Coach by PampersTM app to help you create the best sleep-promoting routine for your baby.
  • Stay calm: It’s natural to feel concerned if your baby seems to be hurting themselves. However, if they don’t seem to be in distress, try to stay calm to avoid alarming your baby or waking them if they are sleeping. Head banging is often a phase, and your baby will outgrow it with age.

The Bottom Line

No parent wants to think their child is hurting themselves by banging their head against their crib, mattress, or other surface. However, some rhythmic movements, such as head banging, are developmentally appropriate and common ways for babies and even some toddlers to self-soothe or relieve stress. There’s often nothing you need to do other than keep promoting healthy and safe sleep habits and stay calm.

If you’re concerned that your baby’s head banging is disrupting their sleep or causing injury, speak to your doctor. Rhythmic movements occasionally can be signs of an underlying condition.

Rest assured that it’s likely your baby will grow out of head banging by early toddlerhood. Until then, be patient and know that it’s all part of your baby learning to navigate how to exist in their little big world!

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics HealthyChildren.org, “Common Childhood Habits”

American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “What is sleep rhythmic movement disorder?”

Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, “Central Auditory and Vestibular Dysfunction Are Key Features of Autism Spectrum Disorder”

Sleep Medicine Review, “Rhythmic movement disorder in childhood: An integrative review”

Sleep Science, “The Effectiveness of Melatonin in Head Banging: A case report”

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FAQs:

Head banging can be associated with different emotional and physical factors such as teething discomfort, frustration, anxiety, or developmental milestones. Some believe it is part of your child developing their sleep patterns. It’s often simply a habit to self-soothe. Sometimes head banging can be related to an underlying condition. If your baby banging their head is disturbing their sleep or causing injury, speak to your pediatrician.

If head banging to fall asleep starts to interfere with your child’s sleep or ability to function during the day, or is done to hurt themselves or cause injury, speak to your doctor. Signs that it is affecting their daytime function include not being able to concentrate or pay attention during the day. Sometimes head banging could be related to another condition. However, oftentimes cases of rhythm movements such as head banging don’t require treatment and your baby will grow out of it.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, head banging is one of the most common self-comforting habits in infancy, like thumb sucking. 59% off infants between 6 and 18 months have a rhythmic movement like head banging or thumb sucking, and it tends to decrease with age. By 18 months of age head banging typically drops to 33%. It often goes away by two or three years of age. By five years of age, the rate is only 5%.

There is no one cause for head banging or slamming their head down, but it can be associated with different emotional and physical factors such as teething discomfort, frustration, anxiety, or developmental milestones. Some experts believe it is part of your child developing their sleep patterns. It’s often simply a habit to self-soothe.

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