How to Help a Teenager Stop Wetting the Bed

A toddler wetting the bed might not come as a surprise to parents, but a teen with the same issue might be unexpected. Yet wetting the bed during the teen years is actually not uncommon.

Studies show that nighttime bedwetting, or nocturnal enuresis, occurs in 2% to 3% of 12-year-old children. Between 1% and 3% of children in their late teenage years wet the bed. It is more common among boys.

This article explains some of the common causes for bedwetting among teens. It also looks at possible treatments and coping strategies.

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Causes

In adults, a full bladder sends a wake-up call to the brain in the middle of the night. That's an ability very young kids don't have. How quickly it develops can vary from one person to the next. Some stop wetting the bed in the preschool years. Others stop later in life.

Here are a few factors that influence the ability to wake up in time:

  • Genetics: If both parents wet the bed until later ages, a child has a 77% chance of having the same issue. If one parent wet the bed, the probability of a child wetting the bed is 44%.
  • Bladder problems: Some teens have smaller bladders that can’t hold much urine. Others have muscle spasms that cause a problem.
  • Sleep disorders: Teens can be very sound sleepers. Some just can’t wake up enough to get to the bathroom before they have an accident. Other teens may have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, that makes it hard for them to wake up. Sleep apnea causes your breathing to stop briefly while you're asleep. It can cause you to feel extra sleepy.
  • Unusual sleep patterns: Most teens aren’t getting enough sleep on school nights. Many of them nap during the day or sleep in late on the weekends. Those sleep patterns can make it harder for the bladder to communicate with the brain during sleep.
  • Stress: Stressful events, like a change in schools or a divorce, could lead to bed-wetting. Some experts believe stressed-out kids behave in ways that raise the chances they’ll wet the bed. Eating salty foods and drinking more fluids at bedtime are two examples.
  • Medical issues: Urinary tract infections and other medical conditions may lead to sudden bedwetting. Diabetes or constipation may also be part of the problem.
  • Caffeine: Drinking too much caffeine, especially late in the day, may increase the chances a teen will wet the bed. Caffeine can interfere with sleep. It also increases the amount of urine your body makes. It may be a good idea to avoid soda, energy drinks, or other drinks with caffeine.
  • Too much liquid at night: Drinking late in the evening can lead to a full bladder overnight. And if your child doesn’t wake up when the bladder is full, an accident can happen.

Recap

Teens may have inherited a tendency to wet the bed. Smaller bladders, sleep problems, stress, diet, and other health conditions can also cause the problem.

Diagnosis

You may want to discuss this issue with your teen's healthcare provider. You'll probably want to talk about whether this is a new or a recurring problem.

If it's new, your doctor can help you find out whether a physical or mental health issue is causing the problem. Knowing the cause will help you and your healthcare provider plan the right treatment.

Treatment

Once medical issues are ruled out, here are a few strategies that might help.

Reducing Liquid Intake

Limit drinks close to and after bedtime. Encourage your teen to stay well hydrated during the day instead.

Bathroom Before Bedtime

Teens sometimes fall asleep using their electronics in bed. They may also get so busy they forget to use the bathroom before bed. Encourage healthy sleep habits. Remind your teen that an empty bladder may make bedwetting less likely.

Alarms and Sensors

Special alarms can wake children up when they begin to wet the bed. A sensor buzzes or beeps at the first sign of moisture. The noise should wake up your teen so they can use the restroom.

Over time, this behavior modification technique helps your teen learn to recognize a full bladder in time.

Medication

There isn’t a one-pill cure for bedwetting. There are medications that might help decrease the amount of urine the kidneys produce. There are also medications that allow the bladder to hold more urine. Talk to your teen’s healthcare provider about the risks and benefits of ​any medication.

Talk Therapy

Therapy may help if your teen is dealing with change, conflict, or the emotional fallout from wetting the bed. It's possible they feel shame or embarrassment. The problem can even affect their self-esteem and social life.

Talk therapy can address any body image issues, self-confidence, and emotional turmoil.

Involve Your Teen

It's usually a good idea to make sure your child knows you're there to offer support. It's also a good idea to get your teen involved in treatment.

Keeping a journal and noting daily activities may help your teen learn what triggers an episode of bedwetting. It may be that tweaking diet or daily patterns can make a difference.

Remind your teen that treatments can take some time to work. You may need to try several different options and it may take a few months. Being patient and working hard may lead to better outcomes.

Talking to Your Teen

It’s likely your teen won’t want to talk openly about bedwetting. Still, it’s important to send the message that there’s no reason to be ashamed.

This is especially important if you’ve noticed your teen is trying to hide the fact that they wet the bed. Perhaps they've started changing their sheets more often. Maybe they're doing more laundry lately.

If you think your teen has been wetting the bed, ask in a kind but direct manner. Say, “If you have been wetting the bed, that’s OK. I think we should talk to your healthcare provider to find out if there's a medical reason for it.”

Explain in a matter-of-fact manner that the brain doesn't always wake people up when their bladder is full. Emphasize that the problem usually resolves over time.

Be willing to listen, too. Validate your teen’s feelings. Let them know you understand that the issue can be tough.

Make it clear that your teen doesn't have to handle this alone. If you used to wet the bed as a teen, talk about it. And remind them that there are likely other kids at school going through the same thing.

Recap

Depending on the cause, there may be treatments to help resolve the problem. Talk therapy may help if your child is dealing with conflict, change, or the effects of wetting the bed. A change to dietary or bedtime routines may also work. If the problem is a health condition, medication might be needed. It's important to involve your teen in creating a treatment plan.

Coping

It's okay to allow your teen to do their own laundry when they have an accident. Keep a spare set of sheets handy so they can make their own bed.

Cover the mattress with a washable, waterproof pad. You can also show your teen how to use mattress pads that lie on top of the sheets.

Make sure to respect your teen’s privacy. If they don't want Grandma or their little brother to know, respect that.

This problem can create extra work and extra anxiety for parents. As much as possible, avoid getting angry or frustrated with your teen. Be kind and supportive. Your teen isn’t doing this on purpose.

How to Handle Sleepovers

Most teens who wet the bed don’t want their peers to know. They may avoid sleepovers, camping trips, and outings where their friends might find out.

Encourage your teen to participate in overnight activities. Talk about strategies that will help them protect their privacy when they're sleeping in the same room as other people.

Consider teen-sized disposable undergarments. Many of them look like regular underwear and your teen’s friends won’t know the difference. Depending on your teen’s weight, you may need to opt for adult-size products.

Problem-solve with your teen about how to dispose of their undergarments discreetly. Packing a small plastic bag might keep their friends from noticing anything.

If your teen is going to a slumber party at a friend’s house, talk about the pros and cons of letting the friend’s parents know ahead of time. The other parents could ensure your teen has an opportunity to throw out disposable undergarments without others knowing.

Summary

It isn't uncommon for some people to wet the bed well into the teen years. Genetics, health conditions, psychological turmoil, and daily sleep and dietary patterns can all be factors. Your teen is likely to outgrow the problem in time.

In the meanwhile, small changes to daily routines could make a difference. Limit liquids and caffeine before bed. Build healthy sleep habits. Talk to your teen's healthcare provider to see if a medication might help. And talk with your teen about how to prepare for overnight activities so the possibility of bed-wetting doesn't keep them from enjoying their social life.

Wetting the bed can be embarrassing. It's important to talk about the issue without causing extra shame. Respect your teen's privacy and allow them to be part of finding solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is teen bedwetting related to mental health issues?

    There is a connection. Teens who wet the bed are more likely to experience a higher degree of anxiety than their peers. In fact, psychiatric disorders are 1.3 to 4.5 times more common in children who suffer from enuresis nocturna (nighttime bedwetting).

  • How long does it take to stop bedwetting when you use an alarm?

    It usually takes two to three months. The goal is to use the alarm consistently until your child goes a full three weeks without an accident. 

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Drutz JE, Naiwen TD. Patient education: Bedwetting in children (Beyond the basics). UpToDate. Updated March 28, 2019.

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