Do You Cricket in Bed? Why This Foot Movement Is Calming for So Many

Photo: Stocksy / Jovo Jovanovic
Whether conscious or subconscious, we all have certain movements we do or actions we take to self-soothe—and no, that term isn't exclusive to babies. “Self-soothing refers to any behavior an individual uses to regulate their emotional state by themselves,” says Kaelan Jones, a registered psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). For me, that behavior is doing "cricket feet," or cricketing, typically when I'm tucked into bed at night and trying to doze off amid anxious thoughts.

Cricketing is “the repeated rubbing of one foot against the other,” says clinical psychologist Lauren Kerwin, PhD. The name comes from the actions of crickets (yes, the insect), which make their characteristic chirping sound by rubbing their legs together. Making or doing cricket feet refers to the same physical movement, just for humans. It’s a type of motor stereotype, which Dr. Kermin explains is a repetitive, rhythmic movement that doesn’t seem to have a specific purpose but is predictable in pattern.

Experts In This Article

Why do I rub my feet together, or cricket, for comfort?

There's no one universal reason why people cricket; Dr. Kerwin says it could be purely for physical comfort, to self-soothe, or as a way to curb anxiety. For me, cricketing is second nature when I’m falling asleep. My feet and legs rub against each other, and in turn, the sensation calms my mind and body down. (My anxiety tends to peak at night when I get into bed, and cricketing has helped a lot with that.)

In this way, cricketing can serve as an emotional regulator, says therapist Sydelcis Mendez, LMFT. “As a person experiences heightened discomfort levels, offsetting their baselines, repetitive behaviors are a common response to reduce anxiety or stress from the perceived threats,” she says.

For people who have neurodivergent disorders, including folks with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cricketing may also be a type of stimming, or self-stimulating behavior, "serving as a form of sensory input that is soothing," says Dr. Kerwin.

Stimming is any behavior that involves repetitive sounds or movements—like hair-twirling, foot-tapping, leg-bouncing, and yes, cricketing—done as a means to help alleviate sensitivities to stimuli or other sensory processing issues common for neurodivergent folks. The additional stimulation offered by the stimming can help distract from other simultaneous inputs (say, loud noises or overlapping voices) in someone who is over-stimulated, or alleviate mind-wandering and boredom in someone who is under-stimulated.

"Those who cricket while they fall asleep, which is common, do so often to improve their sensory processing of their body lying down." —Lauren Kerwin, PhD, clinical psychologist

Because stimming and self-soothing techniques look different in different people, considering how and when you cricket can pinpoint the particular reason at play. For many (including yours truly), cricketing is a subconscious movement at bedtime. "Those who cricket while they fall asleep, which is common, do so often to improve their sensory processing of their body lying down with blankets around them in a dark and quiet space," says Dr. Kerwin. But for people who consciously cricket their feet throughout the day during other activities, the behavior may be helping them to better focus on what they're doing, she says.

What does cricketing do to the body?

There are certain physiological effects of cricketing on the body that could make this behavior particularly comforting, even compared to other common stimming behaviors (like, say, knuckle cracking or chewing on a pencil).

For starters, consider why it often feels so nice to get a foot massage or foot reflexology massage (which is a practice rooted in ancient Chinese medicine that involves touching certain parts of the feet that correlate with other body parts): The feet are full of nerve endings. Gently stimulating these nerve endings by rubbing the feet together like a cricket may create a satisfying feeling, in and of itself.

Separately, “some evidence suggests that repetitive motions can stimulate the release of feel-good neurotransmitters [like oxytocin] and endorphins, which are natural painkillers produced by the body,” says Dr. Kerwin. Thus, cricketing might just physically feel good to do even if you aren't in a state of under- or over-stimulation.

Who is most likely to cricket?

While it's true that people with neurodivergent disorders like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and down syndrome may be more prone to sensory processing issues that could be alleviated with cricketing, they are certainly not the only ones who cricket their feet (or perform any self-soothing behavior, for that matter).

In fact, self-soothing techniques like cricketing are not unique to any certain population. “They are evident in all adults and children,” says Mendez.

That said, people who have neurodivergent disorders are often more associated with stimming behaviors like cricketing because they may experience difficulties with social skills and communication, adds Mendez. “As such, it is likely that the repetitive behaviors offer them an immediate relief that they are unable to communicate or work through alternatively,” she says.

Is there any harm in cricketing?

There is no harm in cricketing, as again, it’s a self-regulatory, comforting, and soothing response. In isolation, it also isn't a sign of a problem or a disorder, says Mendez.

But if it’s a new behavior you notice, the experts here all suggest taking note of its function. Are you cricketing in bed as you try to fall asleep or perhaps during a tense moment in the day? Exploring the circumstances surrounding the cricketing behavior—and whether you catch yourself doing it unconsciously, or identify that you're choosing to do it consciously—can help you figure out whether it might be a response to additional stress or anxiety in your life, or perhaps new kinds of sensory stimulation.

“Everyone exists experiencing emotional and physical discomfort, but we differ in the ability to identify, cope, tolerate, and manage the impact of the stressors.” —Sydelcis Mendez, LMFT, therapist

“Everyone exists experiencing emotional and physical discomfort, but we differ in the ability to identify, cope, tolerate, and manage the impact of the stressors,” says Mendez. “If you find yourself newly using cricketing or other repetitive behaviors, know first and foremost that these behaviors likely developed initially as a protective response.”

Perhaps you’ve been particularly stressed lately and would benefit from some extra support, or something traumatic happened recently, and when you think about it, you also feel the need to self-soothe. If you find yourself newly turning to self-soothing behaviors in the wake of anxiety or panic, it's a good idea to seek the care of a therapist or psychologist.

If you find that you are cricketing as a means to relieve foot pain or deal with aching legs, or you have the uncontrollable urge to move your legs in the evening or as you're trying to fall asleep, it’s important to consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, says Dr. Kerwin. “Rubbing the legs or feet together might offer temporary relief for some people, but it is unlikely to be a treatment for the underlying cause of leg aching.” That could be a neurological condition like restless leg syndrome or peripheral neuropathy, or a vascular disease like peripheral artery disease.

That said, if your cricketing is not a response to physical pain and does not interfere with your day-to-day functioning, there's certainly no harm in the behavior. Indeed, making like a cricket and rubbing your feet together may be just the thing you need to find a sense of comfort before bed—or any other time in the day.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Uvnäs-Moberg, Kerstin et al. “Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 5 1529. 12 Jan. 2015, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01529

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