Sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder

Raffaele Manni MD (

Dr. Manni of the National Institute of Neurology, (COUNTRY), IRCCS C Mondino Foundation, received honorariums from Fidia for speaking engagements.

Antonio Culebras MD, editor. (

Dr. Culebras of SUNY Upstate Medical University at Syracuse received an honorarium from Jazz Pharmaceuticals for a speaking engagement.

Originally released August 16, 1995; last updated February 16, 2020; expires February 16, 2023

This article includes discussion of sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder, jactatio capitis nocturna, jactatio corporis nocturna, and rhythmie du sommeil. The foregoing terms may include synonyms, similar disorders, variations in usage, and abbreviations.


In this article, the author describes the clinical characteristics of sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder. Sleep-related rhythmic movements are common in infants and children. The soothing effect of vestibular stimulation caused by the rhythmic movements may explain why infants rock or roll to soothe themselves. At times these movements are excessive and may disrupt sleep, resulting in daytime sleepiness or injury. In these cases, the movements are classified by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, 3rd edition (ICSD-3), as a sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder.

Key points


• Sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder consists of repetitive, stereotyped, and rhythmic motor behaviors (not tremor) that involve large muscle groups, such as head banging and rocking or rolling of the head or body, with a rate of 0.5 to 2 per second.


• Sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder is distinguished from developmentally normal sleep-related movements by the presence of associated sleep disturbance, impairment of daytime function, or self-inflicted bodily injury.


• The movements occur during bedtime or near naptime, when the patient is drowsy or asleep, and may occur during any stage of sleep, including REM sleep.


• Sleep-related movements usually occur in infants and young children, but can also be found in adults, and the prevalence decreases with increasing age.


• Although there are no proven therapies, there are case reports of significant improvement of rhythmic movements and sleep quality with the use of benzodiazepines, antidepressants, behavioral interventions, hypnosis, and/or sleep restriction.

Historical note and terminology

Repetitive head banging during sleep was first described by Zappert in 1905 and termed “jactatio capitis nocturna.” At the same time, Cruchet of France termed it “rhythmie du sommeil.” The terms “head banging,” ‘head rolling,” body rocking,” “body rolling,” and jactatio corporis nocturna” have also been applied to describe the movements. This condition was named “rhythmic movement disorder” by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD) in 1990 to include the different rhythmic movements that occur in sleep (American Sleep Disorders Association 1990). It was initially classified in the parasomnia section under the subcategory of sleep-wake transition disorders because the movements were thought to occur mainly during the transition between wake and sleep.

In 2005, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, 2nd edition (ICSD-2) renamed the condition “sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder” or “RMD” to stress that these movements are associated with sleep and to avoid confusion with the stereotypic rhythmic movements or “stereotypic movement disorder” (DSM 4 and proposed DSM 5) that occur during the daytime (American Psychiatric Association 1994; American Academy of Sleep Medicine 2005). Stereotypic movement disorder consists of daytime potentially injurious, repetitive, seemingly driven, and apparently purposeless motor behavior such as hand shaking, waving, body rocking, head banging, and self-biting that cause clinically significant distress and impairment of function. The compulsions seen in obsessive compulsive disorder, tics seen in tic disorder, and stereotypies seen in children with autistic disorder are not classified as either stereotypic movement disorder or sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder.

In 2005, ICSD-2 also reclassified sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder under the new nosological category of “sleep-related movement disorders,” which includes restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, sleep-related bruxism, sleep-related leg cramps, unspecified sleep-related movement disorder, and sleep-related movement disorder due to drug or substance or due to medical condition. ICSD-3 (American Academy of Sleep Medicine 2014) expands “sleep related movement disorders” to also include benign sleep myoclonus of infancy and propriospinal myoclonus at sleep onset.

Interestingly, in 1937, almost 60 years prior to sleep-related rhythmic movement disorder being recognized by the ICSD, it was depicted in Walt Disney's film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Jankovic et al 2009). One of the 7 dwarfs, Dopey, is noted to have repeated rhythmic back and forth myoclonus-like thrusting movements of the head, accompanied by soft vocalizations, after laying down to sleep. When he is touched, the movement subsides as he opens his eyes, and he goes back to sleep with a happy sigh.

The content you are trying to view is available only to logged in, current MedLink Neurology subscribers.

If you are a subscriber, please log in.

If you are a former subscriber or have registered before, please log in first and then click select a Service Plan or contact Subscriber Services. Site license users, click the Site License Acces link on the Homepage at an authorized computer.

If you have never registered before, click Learn More about MedLink Neurology  or view available Service Plans.

Find out how you can join MedLink Neurology