Deep sleep and bedwetting often go hand in hand. Find out why
Parents of children who wet the bed often report that their children are extremely deep sleepers.
A Swedish study published in 1998 in the British Journal of Urology found that 65% of parents of children with primary nocturnal enuresis described their children to be either very difficult or almost impossible to wake from sleep, compared to only 5% of parents of non-bedwetting children.1
While being a heavy sleeper doesn’t mean your child will also wet the bed, deep sleep is definitely an important factor when it comes to understanding, managing and treating enuresis.
Does deep sleep cause bedwetting?
It is not unusual for parents to comment how deeply their child sleeps at night – although being a ‘deep sleeper’ is typically not the cause of bedwetting.
My eldest child was such a deep sleeper that she would fall out of bed without waking up – yet she has remained dry at night since the age of 2.
While deep sleeping is not the cause of bedwetting, children who sleep very soundly do find it particularly difficult to respond and wake-up to a full bladder and are therefore more likely to wet the bed.
What is the link between deep sleep and bedwetting?
One of the main causes of Primary Nocturnal Enuresis is a mild neurological development delay which affects the communication between the bladder and the brain via the nervous system.
Simply put, your child’s bladder is still developing the ability to send a message to their brain that it is time to wake up when they need to go to the bathroom.
Because the signal their bladder is sending out is already weak, it makes sense that if your child is sleeping deeply that the chances of the message being received by the brain before they have wet the bed are very slim.
While the scientific link between deep sleep and bedwetting is still in its infancy, a research paper published in Pediatric Nephrology in 2011 identified a strong link between the area of the brain that is responsible for arousing the body from sleep (locus ceruleus) and the part of the brain that controls bladder function,2 which may explain the subjective evidence of the parents in the Swedish study.3
No doubt that the link between deep sleep and bedwetting will come as no surprise to any parent who has watched their child sleep straight through their 80db bedwetting alarm without stirring at all.
Do bedwetting alarms work for deep sleepers?
The short answer is yes, bedwetting alarms can be very effective for deep sleepers as well as lighter sleepers… but you may need to support your child to wake up to the alarm in the first few weeks.4
In fact, most types of bedwetting alarms are specially designed to be loud enough to wake up the parents too, and some wireless alarms can be ordered with an additional alarm unit that you can put on your bedside table so that you are alerted the moment your child’s alarm is triggered.
The key to bedwetting alarms is for your child to wake up as soon as their alarm goes off. Don’t be disheartened if it takes your child a while to wake up, learning to wake up from a deep sleep can be difficult.
Continue to wake them up to go the toilet each time, and by following this routine your child’s body will soon tune in to wake up to the alarm on their own.
It can also be supportive to get your child used to their alarm routine by doing a dress rehearsal doing the day. Trigger the alarm with some water, and show them how to switch it off and make their way to the toilet while they are fully awake. This will support your child to remember how to do it when they are tired and foggy in the middle of the night.5
Bedwetting and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
This may be surprising, but studies have shown that children with primary nocturnal enuresis are actually more likely to enjoy better quality sleep than children who don’t wet the bed.6
For these children, absorbent products like DryNites® Pyjama pants may be all they’ll need to stay dry and dream big while their body naturally develops out of their bedwetting phase.
But this isn’t always the case. One of the common physical causes of secondary enuresis is a sleeping disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OPA).
Research published in 2003 by Associate Professor Lee Brooks studied 160 children with sleep apnea. Of these children, 41% also wet the bed at night.7
Doctors believe that children with sleep apnea may wet the bed because they do not get a restful sleep and therefore find it more difficult to wake up in response to a full bladder.
So while there is definitely a link between deep sleep and bedwetting, deep sleep can be a symptom of quality sleep, and also of restless sleep when it comes to sleep apnea.
As a parent it is important to know when to seek advice about your child’s bedwetting.