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Sleep Disorders

I Shake While Asleep! What`s Wrong?



Ever since I was real young (around 5 yrs old) my mother told me I shake while asleep! She said I used to bounce my head up and down on my pillow. Also at times it looked like my body would shake as if I was having a "small seizure"

For the last 18 years this has not gone away. My fiancee tells me that I still shake almost every night! Just recently, about 6 months ago she said my head started bouncing up and down again! "but not every night". The shaking is from my right leg. We are both very worried about what is wrong with me. It doesn`t wake me up or anything. If no one ever told me I shake at night I never would have known. Also, every time I tell a doctor about this problem they brush it off, and never tell me anything, or run any tests! It`s been like this my whole life and it`s getting worse! Please guide me in the right direction to get this fixed! Or help me understand what is going on!

Thank you very much!


While I would want to hear more about the timing of your movements at night, such as whether you have any history of seizures or currently use any medications, your history suggests the possible diagnosis of rhythmic body movements of sleep.

Rhythmic body movements can be seen during the night in normal people, usually as they are either falling asleep or when they are aroused from sleep. The movements may include repetitive body rocking, head banging, and head rolling. They are typically associated with the transition from wakefulness to sleep but may be sustained in light sleep or during arousals from sleep. The movements may be alarming in appearance and often parents become concerned for a child's physical and mental well-being, though children with this problem are usually developmentally, behaviorally and medically normal. The rhythmic movements occur in up to 20% of children until 18 months of age and 8% of children by 4 years of age. While the movements may spontaneously resolved in early adolescence, symptoms can persist into adulthood.

The diagnosis is based on identification of the character of symptoms in the absence of other medical or psychiatric disorders. At times the motor activity and head banging can be violent and physical injury can occur, although it is uncommon.

An overnight polysomnogram (sleep study) may demonstrate the typical rhythmic movements during the immediate pre-sleep period and persisting into stage 1 nonREM sleep. Sleep is otherwise generally normal. There are a variety of treatments that are proposed and can be tried, but none have been well-studied or are universally accepted.

You should discuss your symptoms with your doctor, who can refer you for appropriate testing and trials of treatment. I suggest that you seek a referral to a Sleep Center that has some experience in diagnosing people with rhythmic body movements or seizures.

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Response by:

Mark   Splaingard, MD Mark Splaingard, MD
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University