What is Nighttime Incontinence?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Also known as nocturnal urinary incontinence or nighttime wetting, nighttime incontinence is the involuntary release of urine while the individual is sleeping. Many children experience this condition between the ages of five and ten, but usually outgrow the bedwetting as their bodies continue to develop. In situations where the incontinence continues into later childhood or recurs during the adult years, physicians often look for certain physical and emotional factors that point to the origin of the health problem.

There are several possible reasons for nighttime incontinence. In children, there is the possibility that the body is developing at a slower pace. When this is the case, the growth of the bladder may not be progressing at a normal rate. As a result, the child with a smaller bladder may experience a more frequent need to urinate, often with very little control of the bodily function.

Sleep apnea can also serve as a trigger for nighttime incontinence in both children and adults. The interruption of a normal breathing pattern during sleep may cause the body to experience some distress, triggering the bladder to release any stored urine. There is also some evidence that genetics may play a role, suggesting that if one or both parents experienced bedwetting as children, their offspring are more likely to repeat the pattern.


Anxiety is also a possible cause for nighttime incontinence. The anxiety may take the form of preoccupation with a difficult situation at school or work that interferes with the normal sleep cycle and thus sets the stage for the bedwetting. In advanced cases, the individual may develop a full-blown anxiety disorder. Should a panic attack occur during sleep, the body’s reaction to the emotional anxiety may be to prompt the bladder to empty.

Fortunately, there are some treatments for nighttime incontinence that can help control the condition, or even eliminate the bedwetting altogether. Limiting the consumption of liquids for several hours before bedtime can be helpful in situations where the bladder or the urinary system is either developing at a slower pace or has been temporarily compromised due to an accident. There are also medications that may help minimize or even prevent involuntary urination at night. In situations where worry and anxiety is the root cause of the bedwetting, finding ways to neutralize the underlying reasons for the anxiety will often result in a cessation of nighttime incontinence, and allow the sufferer to sleep soundly through the night with no release of urine.


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Post 3

@chrisinbama&googie98- There is one treatment (not sure if I agree with it) called the bed-wetting alarm. It was developed in 1938. Apparently, there is a good amount of success with it. Basically, when the child (or adult) wets the bed, the alarm goes off, letting the person know that have started urinating. The article that I read stated that when the alarm goes off, the child would know to get up and finish urinating in the bathroom. It is most effective when used for at least 15 weeks.

There is also pharmacologic treatment available. One of drugs commonly used is called Desmopressin, also called DDAVP. It works by decreasing the volume of urine at night. It comes in a nasal spray or a tablet. The side effects are not bad. It might be something that both of you could talk to your doctors about.

Post 2

@googie98- I’m sorry to hear about the issues your son is having. This article provides great information as to what causes Primary Nocturnal Enuresis but I had to research in with a little more detail because my son also has it.

With children, the bladder is mainly an automatic organ and it is constantly developing urinary control. From the information that I have, I learned that it occurs in almost 15% of six-year-olds and around 5% of ten-year-olds. My son is 11 and is still having the problem.

To answer your question, yes, it can be hereditary. It is said that there is a significant hereditary component to nocturnal enuresis. Children who have one parent that suffers from nocturnal enuresis have around a 44% chance of having it, as well. If both parents suffer from it, the child will have a 77% chance of having it.

Post 1

This is a bit embarrassing to talk about but that's what I love about wiseGEEK; we can talk about anything! My ex-husband had a problem with urinary incontinence. Almost every morning I would get up and the bed would be wet. We had a waterbed so he would always say that it must have a leak in it. He was really embarrassed by it and would not even talk to me about it.

We have been divorced for several years but we have a 12-year-old son. He has had a problem with bed-wetting for several years. His pediatrician wrote him a prescription for some kind of nose spray but it didn't seem to help. Is this condition hereditary or is just a coincidence that my son and his father both have the same problem?

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