Those Rock and Rule Blues

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • People are beginning to understand the dangers and disabilitating effects of the major sleep disorders like sleep apnea, narcolepsy and insomnia. But there are many other things that disturb your sleep - irritations that are not really dangerous, some happen to almost everyone to a lesser or greater degree and some are quite rare.

    Have you heard of jactacio capitis nocturna? That's the official name, but you'd know it better as head banging. Other names are "Rhythmic Movement Disorder" and "Stereotypic Movement Disorder." In simple terms, it's the head banging or body rocking or other rhythmic movements that sufferers go through as they fall asleep. It's classed as a parasomnia (Parasomnia is simply another term denoting things that disturb normal sleep. Other parasomnias are sleepwalking and sleep talking.)

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    It's a common disorder of childhood. It may be associated to the comforting rocking motion babies experience while in the womb. It's quite normal up to the age of three or four. By that time the child should begin to grow out of the habit.

    Unfortunately, this is not always so. As an example, my oldest son was a head banger. At night, he'd rhythmically bang his head on the back of a chair, earphones clamped to his head, listening to AC/DC or Alice Cooper or Ozzie Osbourne until he fell asleep.

    You've heard of sleep-learning? It made me wonder just what all that Heavy Metal music was teaching him! He was in his teens then. He's now forty. Does he still do it? He no longer lives at home, so I can't vouch for it, but I imagine so.

    Is it harmful? Not usually, especially in childhood. It seems to be merely a way for an infant to rock his or herself to sleep. There are several common movements involved. Head banging, as I described above, head rolling, where the head is rolled back and forth on the sleeping surface, body rocking, usually done on the hands and knees, and body rolling which is rolling from side to side while lying on the back.

    However, the older the sufferer is, the more troublesome the habit becomes. It can interfere with social life, and even cause divorce if the movements are forceful enough and last long enough to disturb the spouse's sleep.

    It also disturbs sleep rather than helps the victim to sleep once adulthood is reached. Sometimes the movements are violent enough to move the bed or jar the sleeper awake. This may happen every time the sleeper starts to fall asleep. Many nights like this and you have sleep deprivation.

    What can you do? If the victim is a child, and you worry about head injury, try having him wear a helmet, although this isn't the most comfortable headgear for sleeping. Also talk to your doctor. He may suggest a mild tranquilizer.
    No matter the age, if the rhythmic movements seem to be heading toward self-injury, it's time to seek help. Things like self biting or scratching, or hitting the body hard enough to cause bruising are symptoms that indicate the problem is getting way out of hand.

    Stress, anger and worry seem to make the disorder worse. Also, especially in children, boredom. Try to avoid these if you or a loved one suffers from rhythmic movement disorder.

  • Although this has not been proven by research, there is a possibility that this disorder may lead to another disorder, restless leg syndrome.

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Published On: July 06, 2007