Bedwetting: Possible Causes and Solutions

Why does my child wet the bed? What’s the best cure for bedwetting?

Studies show that about 15% of children age 5 are bedwetters, 8% around age 10, and approximately 2% at age 15, so a lot of parents have asked these questions. But there’s only one thing we know for certain about bedwetting, or nocturnal enuresis, and it’s that no one is really sure what causes it.

A common theory is that the nerves controlling the bladder are not yet mature, resulting in a malfunction of the signal from the bladder to the brain when the bladder is full, causing the bladder to relax and begin urination.

But it’s not a proven theory, and other factors may come into play. The child could have a relatively small bladder that isn’t large enough to hold nighttime urine, or the child could be an unusually deep sleeper, unable to recognize the signals from the bladder to the brain. There could be a urinary tract infection, chronic constipation, or the onset of diabetes. It could be the stress caused by major life changes such as the parents divorcing or the child starting a new school. Family history also plays a part—80% of children who have parents with a history of bedwetting will likely be bedwetters, too. Some children outgrow bedwetting as their bodies mature, yet others don’t, and it’s a puzzle to figure out why.

Whatever the reason, waking up to wet, soggy sheets and the unpleasant odor of urine causes feelings of guilt and stress for the child, and often frustration and helplessness for the parents. Bedwetting children and tweens ages 8-12 also must take on the added sadness and humiliation of not being able to have sleepovers like their friends or go away to camp. So, after ruling out (and treating) any medical conditions, what’s the next step?

Many people are conditioned to try Western medicine first. Here are some conventional treatments and their pros and cons:

Bedwetting alarm. This moisture-sensing device is a battery-operated unit that connects to a pad that’s placed under the child in the bed. When the alarm senses wetness, it goes off. The alarm could wake the child in time for a trip to the bathroom, or it could be too late for that. Either way, the purpose is to eventually condition the child to wake when the bladder is full. Children who are bedwetters because they’re deep sleepers, however, won’t hear the alarm, and the bedwetting cycle will continue.

Absorbent underwear and/or waterproof mattress pad. These are partial solutions to the frustration and the mess, but they won’t help at all with the underlying problem. There’s still a smelly mess to clean up, there’s still frustration and shame, and there’s no conditioning of the child’s bladder-response system.

Drugs. As a last resort, parents often allow the doctor to prescribe medications that either boost the level of ADH (anti-diuretic hormone) that forces the body to produce less urine at night; calm the bladder and reduce contractions; or alter the child’s sleeping/waking pattern. However, there are no guarantees that these drugs will help, and if they do help at all, bedwetting usually begins again when the drugs are stopped. Drugs also have side effects, in this case the potential for seizures, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dry mouth, and many others, and no one wants to add side effects to an already stressful situation.

There’s good news, though. When the above treatments are unsuccessful (and they usually are), more and more parents are turning to safe, alternative treatments such as acupuncture. Read “Acupuncture: The Best Bedwetting Solution” by Damiana Corca to find out how acupuncture can help your child.

Damiana Corca is an Acupuncture Sleep Specialist in Boulder and Denver, Colorado. She is helping people sleep better by offering sleep treatments locally. Damiana is also available for phone sessions and clinical support for your local acupuncturist.