Rhythmic movement disorder in childhood: An integrative review

Sleep Med Rev. 2017 Oct:35:62-75. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2016.08.003. Epub 2016 Aug 26.


Rhythmic movement disorder consists of repetitive stereotypic movements, such as head banging or body rocking, that recur every second or so and may last from a few minutes to hours, usually prior to sleep onset. This review of childhood rhythmic movement disorder highlights the lack of systematic research into core aspects of the condition, relying heavily on small case series or case reports. Interpretation is further limited by almost universal failure to confirm the core diagnostic criteria (C) of the International classification of sleep disorders (III), namely that the rhythmic movements should have clinical consequences. Nonetheless, a number of themes emerge. Rhythmic movement disorder is likely to start in infancy and have a developmental course with spontaneous resolution in early childhood in many cases. Factors associated with persistence are, however, unclear. Associations with ADHD and neurodevelopmental disorders are intriguing, require further study and may shed light on the underlying cause of the condition. There is a pressing need for a systematic approach to classify rhythmic movement disorder, to allow standardization of the much needed research into the underlying aetiology and treatment of this relatively neglected sleep disorder.

Keywords: Child; Rhythmic movement disorder; Sleep.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Stereotypic Movement Disorder / physiopathology*