What the Heck is Musical Head Banging?

I thought I knew what musical head banging was.  I was wrong.musical head banging 1

In 1995 I won a musical head banging contest at my niece’s bat mitzvah. As I recall the DJ played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I did what any student of 70’s hair band culture would have done. I planted my feet firmly in place, raised my right arm, saying “I Love You” in American Sign Language (cuz rock n’ roll is all about the love, dontcha know?) Then I proceeded to make like I was hammering finishing nails into a two-by-four. With my forehead. Brother Beavis will demonstrate.

I was so naive. That was NOT musical head banging.

Apparently, musical head banging has something to do with your baby’s sleep. It is claimed by some “experts” that if you play music to your baby as she falls asleep in the crib, she may develop musical head banging. And this is bad.

I learned this from illinoishomepage.net in an article entitled “Sleep Problems”

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill.

You might think letting your baby fall asleep to music is a good thing, but old habits sleep hard. It could actually negative affect their sleep.

It sounds harmless, but letting baby drift off listening to music might have a few consequences. Studies show constantly relying on certain sounds to go to sleep can create a need to listen to music.

So, if they’re away from home and don’t have access to that music, baby might not be able to sleep without listening to it first.

This could lead to musical head-banging. Music could make your child more likely to bang their head against solid objects.

If you think music isn’t the right choice for your child, experts suggest a white noise machine. It will drown out household sounds and provide a quiet environment for them to sleep in.

You can even find some apps for them on your smartphone.

A graphic in the accompanying video suggests that livestrong.com is the source of this information. I followed the lead and found this article from s2015. It states, in part,

[H]eadbanging (sic) is the habit some children have of banging their heads against solid objects. If you have a child who bangs his head, you may notice it’s more prevalent when falling asleep or when listening to music, notes the University of Michigan Health System. That means headbanging could be exacerbated when your little one listens to music to fall asleep.

I was floored. I’ve been a sleep consultant for a long time and I’ve never heard of this phenomenon before. According to her bio, the author of the piece, whom I will not name, “specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.” I wonder if she’s ever had a baby?

Not finished with my search, I checked the references at the bottom of the article. There was one piece that did indeed come from the University of Michigan Health System web site. The subject of the article was “Bad Habits/Annoying Behavior“. Here is what this piece had to say about head banging:

Body rocking is when (sic) a child rhythmically rocks while either sitting or resting on their knees or elbows. This behavior usually starts around age six months and disappears by age two. Most children rock for 15 minutes or less. Like head banging, it occurs while listening to music or falling asleep.

That’s it. How did we get from here to “Music could make your child more likely to bang their head against solid objects”?

I’m afraid what happened here is the internet version of a game of telephone. The message got so garbled by the last call that this television station in Illinois ended up giving some pretty dumb advice to parents.

What is Musical Head Banging, Really?

It’s one of two things. Babies rock and bang their heads sometimes when they are tired. It is a sort of self-soothing technique. It usually lasts no more than 15 minutes. Other babies bang their heads as a kind of what I call “Stupid Baby Trick”. Bonking her head makes the baby hear this hollow ‘thud’ sound that she didn’t expect. Any unexpected sensation is interesting to a baby. She’ll keep doing it because, well, it’s interesting. The same thing happens when she pulls her own hair (it HURTS!) or gags herself with her own fist.musical head banging 2

Eventually the child gets bored and the behavior stops. But sometimes the baby keeps the behavior going if it gets a big reaction from a caregiver. It is as if the baby says to herself “I’m getting bored with this head banging thing, but look what a reaction I get from mom! I’m gonna keep this going!”

Can music become a negative sleep association?

Something else the Illinois article said caught my attention. It was the suggestion that that music at bedtime might interfere with sleep: “Studies show constantly relying on certain sounds to go to sleep can create a need to listen to music (emphasis added).” What were these studies?

I went to the online National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health, affectionately known as “PubMed“. I performed every search I could think of combining “music” and “sleep disturbance” or “sleep associations”. I could find none. There are no such studies. Playing music in the nursery does not interfere with the process of a baby falling asleep or staying asleep. In fact, one of the sources cited at the livestrong article actively recommended music to help a baby fall asleep.

Unless of course you decide to blast “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the nursery.

Published by

Rob Lindeman

Rob Lindeman is a sleep coach, entrepreneur, and writer living in Massachusetts. Ready to Get Rid of the Pacifier? Sign up for our FREE Video eCourse: The Paci-Free Method http://bit.ly/1U8Tdzx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *