Bedwetting (Enuresis)

Bedwetting (known as enuresis) is the involuntary release of urine past an age when control usually is expected.


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Urinary tract

Bobby's Story

Bobby felt ashamed when he woke up and discovered his underwear and bed sheets were wet again. He had urinated while sleeping. It bothered Bobby because at age 10 he thought he was too old for such. things to happen.

What Is Bedwetting?

Bobby's reaction is understandable, because wetting the bed can be connected in people's minds with being a baby. But bedwetting is a common condition, even for 10-year-olds like Bobby, and people should not feel shame over it. It is estimated that 30 percent of children at age 4, 10 percent at age 6, 3 percent at age 12, and 1 percent at age 18 experience bedwetting. It is not a sign of personal weakness to wet the bed. Instead it can be the result of deep sleep, stress, or other conditions.

The condition is called nocturnal enuresis (nok-TER-nal en-yu-REE-sis). Nocturnal means occurring at night, and enuresis comes from the Greek word that means "to urinate in." It is estimated that each night from 5 to 7 million children in the United States wet their beds while sleeping.

Bedwetting occurs in both boys and girls, although it is more common in boys. Adults, too, experience the condition, although in much smaller numbers. About 1 percent of adults wet their beds. Some older men and women, as they age, develop incontinence * during the day and at night, often because of medical conditions or medications they take.

Most children are toilet trained by age 3, although some continue to use diapers or training pants while sleeping. Past that age, many children might wet their beds once in a while, especially if they are sick or particularly tired. After the age of 6, if bedwetting continues to occur, doctors often will recommend treatment.

A common condition that runs in families

No one is sure exactly what causes some children to wet their beds more often than others. Children who have a parent who wet the bed as a child are more likely to wet the bed themselves. The chances range from 40 to 75 percent, depending upon whether one or both parents experienced bedwetting.

What Causes Bedwetting?

Many children with enuresis appear to be exceptionally deep sleepers. They are not awakened easily by the urge to urinate.

Other children have bladders that develop more slowly than most. The bladder is the sac in which urine is stored until it is released.

Infections of the urinary tract (kidneys, bladder) and diabetes also can lead to bedwetting. It also is a common reaction to stress. For example, some younger children who are toilet trained resume wetting their beds after a new baby is born or parents separate. Starting a new school or moving to a new town also can trigger the condition or make it worse.

How Is Bedwetting Treated?

Bedwetting often frustrates parents and embarrasses children. Most people stop bedwetting without any treatment by the time they are 6 years old. It is important to remember that with family support and medical advice, almost all children overcome the condition.

There are several techniques that often help. Limiting drinking liquids near bedtime can be helpful, as can avoiding caffeinated beverages, such as colas. Sometimes parents also wake their children after a few hours of sleep to encourage them to go to the bathroom. This can help children to start to wake up when they experience the urge to urinate. Some children use a bedwetting alarm, which awakens them if the bed becomes wet. In some cases, a doctor can prescribe a medicated nasal spray that temporarily reduces urine production during the night.

Doctors say it is important for parents to offer encouragement to children and help them understand it is a common condition. Children also should realize they probably know people who have similar experiences, but it is not something many children discuss with their friends or classmates.

* incontinence (in-KONT-e-nans) is the failure to control urination or bowel movement.

What If I Get Invited to
a Sleepover?

Many children who wet their beds fear sleeping anywhere but at home. They are worried they will urinate during a sleepover or at camp. It can cause them to withdraw from important social activities like these.

However, studies show that many children who wet their beds at home do not do it while sleeping somewhere else. Doctors say this might happen because children are not sleeping as soundly as they do at home. Deep sleep is a common reason children do not wake up when they need to urinate.

The parents of children who wet their bed sometimes can ease the situation by talking things over with the parents of the friend before the sleepover. Alerting the friend's parents might help overcome any uneasiness if bedwetting occurs.

Also, it can help to follow the advice about not drinking before bedtime and setting an alarm to get up at night for a bathroom break.

Sometimes bedwetting is not overcome with these techniques. Some children might need special counseling about stress in their lives. Other might need medication that controls the bedwetting.

See also


Maizels, Max, Diane Rosenbaum, and Barbara Keating. Getting to Dry: How to Help Your Child Overcome Bedwetting. Harvard Common Press, 1999. posts numerous articles about childhood conditions, including enuresis, at its website.

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