Bed wetting (nocturnal enuresis) can be worrying and frustrating, but it’s common for children to accidentally wet the bed during the night. The problem usually resolves in time.

Bed wetting is common in young children but it gets less common as a child gets older.

In the UK, it’s estimated that about:

  • 1 in 12 children wet the bed regularly at four and a half years old (regularly is defined as at least twice a week)
  • 1 in 40 children wet the bed regularly at seven and a half years old
  • 1 in 65 children wet the bed regularly at nine and a half years old

About 1 in 100 people continue to wet the bed into adulthood.

Bed wetting is slightly more common in boys than girls.

When to see your Doctor

Bed wetting is only really a problem if it begins to bother the children or parents. Only rarely will this be considered a problem in children under 5 years old. Many families first seek treatment when the bed wetting affects a child’s social life (for example, preventing sleepovers).

Medical treatments aren’t usually recommended for children under five (although exceptions can be made if a child finds bed wetting particularly upsetting).

If your child frequently wets the bed and finds it upsetting, speak to your doctor for advice.

Why does my child wet the bed?

There’s usually no obvious reason why children wet the bed and it’s not your child’s fault. In many cases, the problem runs in families.

Bed wetting could be caused by your child:

  • producing more urine than their bladder can cope with
  • having an overactive bladder, meaning it can only hold a small amount of urine
  • being a very deep sleeper so they don’t react to the signals telling their brain their bladder is full

Constipation is frequently associated with bed wetting, especially in children who don’t wet themselves every night. In these cases, bed wetting may happen during the night when the child has not had a poo during the day. Sometimes, treating constipation is all that’s needed to treat bed wetting. Untreated constipation makes any treatment of bed wetting much harder.

Occasionally, bed wetting can be triggered by emotional distress, such as being bullied or moving to a new school.

In rare cases, bed wetting may be the symptom of an underlying health condition, such as type 1 diabetes.

Treating bed wetting

The recommended plan is usually to try a few measures yourself first, such as limiting the amount of liquid your child drinks in the evening, and making sure they go to the toilet before going to sleep.

Reassuring your child that everything is okay is also important. Don’t tell them off or punish them for wetting the bed as this won’t help and could make the problem worse. It’s important for them to know they’re not alone, and it will get better.

If these measures alone don’t help, a bed wetting alarm is often recommended. These are moisture-sensitive pads a child wears on their night clothes. An alarm sounds if the child begins to pee. Over time, the alarm should help train a child to wake once their bladder is full.

Most children respond well to treatment, although bed wetting sometimes returns temporarily.

Bed wetting in adults

About 1 in 100 people continue to wet the bed into adulthood, and some people only begin to wet the bed as an adult.

This usually requires referral to a specialist such as an urologist (a specialist in treating conditions that affect the urinary system) or an incontinence adviser.

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