Bedwetting happens when children don’t wake up during the night when they need to do a wee. This might be because children:
- sleep deeply and find it hard to wake in the night
- make larger than usual amounts of wee at night
- have constipation
- have conditions that interrupt their sleep, like obstructive sleep apnoea.
Bedwetting runs in families. If you wet the bed as a child, your own children might be more likely to wet the bed.
Bedwetting is common, even in school-age children. At 5 years old, 1 in 5 children still wets overnight. At 6 years old, it’s 1 in 10 children.
Bedwetting is also called nocturnal enuresis.
Most children who wet the bed are healthy and naturally stop wetting the bed as they get older.
Medical help: when to get it for children who wet the bed
If you or your child are getting upset or worried about the bedwetting, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP.
You should also speak to your GP if your child has:
- bedwetting that has started again after a long period of being dry
- snoring or restless sleep that happens at the same time as bedwetting
Daytime wetting is much less common than bedwetting. Daytime wetting might be caused by a medical condition. Speak to your GP if, during the day, your child wets themselves, needs to use the toilet a lot, or needs to run to the toilet to avoid wetting themselves.
If your child wets the bed, try to be patient and remember that bedwetting is not your child’s fault.
There are also practical things you can do to reduce bedwetting:
- Encourage your child to avoid caffeinated drinks during the day – for example, cola. Caffeinated drinks can cause the body to make more wee, which can contribute to bedwetting.
- Encourage your child to use the toilet before bedtime.
- Install a night light to help your child find their way to the toilet if they wake in the night.
It’s best to avoid the following:
- Waking your child overnight to take them to the toilet – this doesn’t help your child learn to wake themselves.
- Restricting what your child drinks in the evening – this can make it difficult for your child to drink enough fluid.
It’s a good idea to buy a waterproof mattress protector or underlay for your child’s bed to stop the mattress getting wet and smelly. Bedwetting sheets are another option – these are a combination of fabric and waterproof material that go over the bottom bed sheet. They can make it faster and easier to change your child’s bedding in the night.
Bedwetting alarms are usually recommended as the first treatment for children who are 7 years or older.
Bedwetting alarms make a noise and wake children when they wet the bed. They gradually help children start to recognise when they’re going to wee.
There are 2 types of alarm:
- Pad and bell alarm – this is a rubber mat that goes on your child’s bed. You put it under your child’s bottom. It’s connected by a cord to a battery-operated alarm, which sounds when the rubber mat gets wet – that is, when your child does a wee.
- Personal alarm – this goes into your child’s pyjamas or underpants. The alarm sounds when it gets wet – that is, when your child does a wee.
If you decide to use a bedwetting alarm, it can be a good idea to sleep in your child’s room for the first week or so. This is because your child might need help to wake quickly and go to the toilet. Also, the sound of the alarm can confuse or scare some children until they get used to it. So you might also need to comfort your child.
Depending on how well your child responds to the alarm treatment, you might need to use a bedwetting alarm for 1-3 months. If your child is still wetting the bed after 3 months, you might need to have a break. You can try again at a later time or try other treatments.
Bedwetting alarms are completely safe. There’s no risk of electrocution to your child. But they might not be a good choice for children with sensory sensitivities.
Bedwetting alarms work only if your child wants to stop wetting the bed. If your child isn’t concerned about bedwetting, it might be better to wait and see whether the wetting stops by itself.
Medicine for bedwetting
In some cases, your GP or a paediatrician might prescribe medicine to treat bedwetting. Speak to your GP about whether medicine is an appropriate treatment for your child.