Nighttime incontinence can be upsetting and embarrassing, but the most important thing to know is that if you’re suffering with it, you’re not alone.
A study in the Canadian Urological Association Journal in 2018 found that around 2 to 3% of the population has nighttime urinary incontinence, with the numbers even higher among those in nursing homes (39%), with Down syndrome (17%) or women with bladder voiding issues (23%).
Here’s a primer on what may be causing your nighttime incontinence and treatments for the problem.
What is nighttime incontinence?
Nighttime incontinence is the involuntary voiding of a bladder during sleep. Having more than one episode of wetting the bed every six months is uncommon in healthy adults, so if this is happening to you, you may want to see a doctor.
What are the risk factors and causes of nighttime incontinence?
There are two main kinds of nighttime incontinence: primary and secondary. Primary means that someone has never achieved the ability to hold their bladder overnight. Secondary, on the other hand, is when a person was once able to do so but lost the ability in adulthood.
There are several risk factors for experiencing secondary nighttime incontinence, including benign prostatic hyperplasia and urinary obstruction for men, and hypertension, smoking and obesity in women — as well as hypertension, psychiatric medications, neurological disease and sleep apnea for the general population.
There can be many causes for repeated episodes of wetting the bed, some of which include:
- Bladder infections, disorders and obstructions
- Hemolytic anemia
- Sleep apnea
- Alcohol intoxication
- Side effects of medication
- Neurological disorders and psychological factors like depression and anxiety
- Prostate enlargement
As you get older, you may experience nighttime incontinence when you are not able to get to the bathroom quickly enough, too, or if you are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
There can even be several factors working together at once. In many cases, doctors can identify the cause, but sometimes it’s unclear exactly what is causing the problem.
How can I deal with nighttime incontinence?
Nighttime incontinence doesn’t have to be debilitating. There are plenty of products available to keep clothes and bedding dry and odor-free. Some of the products you can try are:
- Incontinence briefs and underwear: Quilted adult briefs like these and briefs like these are designed to be worn under clothing and can prevent urine from leaking onto pajamas or bedding, and fight odor as well. You can also try incontinence underwear that has an elastic waistband to fit more like regular underwear, which are easy to pull on and off.
- Disposable underpads: If you are consistently wetting the bed, you may want to try using disposable underpads when you go to sleep. Disposable underpads go on top of your mattress or bottom sheet to prevent urine from leaking through, and provide moderate protection. Some disposable underpads, like these, provide light protection from leaks on furniture and bedding.
You can also try to make lifestyle changes that may help. For example, try avoiding caffeine, alcohol and sedatives, as they all can make nighttime incontinence worse. Losing weight, which can improve sleep apnea, and exercise also might help.
If a urinary tract infection is causing your nighttime incontinence, a doctor can prescribe you an antibiotic, which should solve the problem. A doctor can also prescribe antidepressants and antianxiety medications to help treat psychological issues that may be causing your incontinence, and medications like desmopressin can help reduce the urge to urinate overnight.
Finally, there are behavioral therapies, botox injections and surgical treatments that may help as well.
Nighttime incontinence is manageable
In short, there can be many reasons why someone is experiencing nighttime incontinence – from psychological to physiological issues – and it’s crucial to seek help. Doctors can sometimes cure or reduce bedwetting, and there are also many products to keep you dry and comfortable all night long, so you can get the restorative sleep that you need.