Bedwetting Alarms 101

Everything you need to know about bedwetting alarms: how well they work, how many types there are, the pros and cons of using one and what to look for in an alarm.

As children mature, or as bladder muscles weaken over time for adults, bedwetting (called enuresis, or involuntary urination) can become a problem resulting in regular wash cycles at home or trips to a laundromat.

Children, especially, can feel embarrassed by bedwetting. To “pee the bed” in many cultures can feel traumatic, especially if it is discovered and made fun of by siblings or peers.

Using a bedwetting system at nighttime can be part of the process of regulating a person’s ability to feel and respond to the physical cues of urination, even within a deep sleep.

Wetters often are not aware that they are wetting the bed at nighttime as they are often fast asleep. Various systems exist that can detect the moisture under the sleeper at nighttime. Each device usually has a type of alarm that alerts a sleeper, caregiver, parent, or spouse that the sleeping mat or mattress is becoming wet with urine. After the alarm goes off, the wetter can be awakened to stop or minimize the bedwetting.

Bedwetting Alarm Benefits

Bedwetting alarms are the most safe and effective way of changing a person’s enuresis habits as they don’t require any medical intervention.

  • Vibrating bedwetting alarms can help adolescents avoid embarrassment because the alarm is inaudible.
  • Having an extra receiver in a caregiver’s room can be an extra alert in case the person with enuresis is a deep sleeper.
  • Bedwetting alarms are a way to avoid medication treatments for enuresis

Bedwetting Alarm Problems

Heavy sleepers and their caregivers sometimes do not hear or respond to the alarm.

  • The alarm system itself needs to be cleaned and well-maintained.
  • The treatment process for enuresis via alarm systems can take a long time and be almost as frustrating for some users as enuresis itself.
  • If an alarm is not effective in treating enuresis, medication may need to be added to the treatment regimen

Three types of bedwetting alarm systems are outlined below

Wearable Alarms Wireless Alarms Pad Alarms
  • Sensor attaches to underwear
  • Uses magnetic or electronic sensor to detect wetness
  • Wireless transmission of wetness detection to alarm units
  • Detector sometimes does not require external power or batteries, but alarm does
  • Available with wearable or pad bedwetting detection systems
  • Convenient for placement across the room to ensure wearer or caregiver awakens
  • Alarm requires batteries or external power
  • Alarm requires batteries or external power
  • Pad is placed under the person with enuresis
  • Detection of wetness not usually as quick as with wearable alarms
  • Available as wireless or wired alarm systems


Whichever alarm type and brand you choose, the remedy for bedwetting is not as simple as using the alarm. For children to respond positively to the system, they often need positive reinforcement from the parent or caregiver who should plan to also awaken with the alarm and give praise to the wearer or user when they respond to the alarm. Some alarm systems actually come with books that address the psychological aspects of helping a person with enuresis overcome bedwetting.

What to look for in a bedwetting alarm

Bedwetting isn’t a serious medical disorder, but it is one that can cause socialization problems for children and feelings of stress and frustration for adults with incontinence and problems waking up at nighttime to pee. In children, it can have an effect on self-esteem, causing embarrassment at or avoidance of overnight social events such as sleep-over parties. In adults with incontinence, there is a loss of independence and flexibility with one’s sleeping arrangements, especially when away from home. For adult caregivers, the result is a reduction of time, money, and energy in dealing with the problem.

Enuresis is the more scientific and medical term for bedwetting. Enuresis in children is only a diagnosis if the child has not had a single night free from bedwetting in 6 months. Eventually the problem does resolve itself, but many parents and children seek earlier relief from the condition.

One form of relief is to train the nervous system to synchronize the signals that lead to nighttime urination and to awaken the wetter before wetting the bed or mat they are sleeping on.

One way to train the system is to have an alarm system that awakens the wetter in time to stop wetting and to go to the bathroom. Here’s what to look for in a bedwetting or enuresis alarm:

Decide whether the person might respond better to an auditory alarm, a tactile alarm, or both. Auditory alarms come in different types and sounds to awaken sleepers. Tactile alarms generally vibrate under the mattress or in a pad directly under the sleeper. Both auditory and tactile alarms can be worn as a special undergarment, or as part of one.

Decide whether the person needs a wearable alarm, a wireless alarm, or a bell and pad alarm.

Wearable alarms are the most popular because of convenience in washing and in portability. Wearables contain a sensor wire, usually stitched right into the undergarment, that connects to an audible or vibrating alarm which is usually attached to the shoulder or arm of the wearer.

Wireless alarms consist of a pad or undergarment wirelessly connected to separate alarm placed on a desk away from the person with enuresis. The person or caregiver is forced to get out of bed to turn off the alarm.

Bell and pad alarms are the least effective means of controlling enuresis as the person might roll off the pad, thus thwarting the alarm when moisture ends up off the pad. They also take longer to detect moisture from the user, and might not go off at all if the amount of moisture is too small. Bell and pad alarms are only recommended if the child or adult refuses to wear an alarm.

Most pediatricians recommend an auditory alarm so that parents wake up with the child to assist and praise them during the training process. Parents don’t usually like to hear this because it means less sleep for them, but the training process is short-term (between 6 and 8 weeks) and the gains are long-term (more sleep and less mess for everyone after it’s done).

Effectiveness depends on the alarm ALWAYS working. That means it has to go off 100% of the time when bedwetting occurs. Make sure children aren’t disconnecting or turning off the alarm, or that the alarm doesn’t accidentally become disconnected while the child moves during sleep.

Alarms that have a two-step turn-off procedure are twice as effective as one-step turn-off alarms. To detect the first drop and stop bedwetting, wearable alarms should be snugly fit to the wearer, such as with briefs or panties, and therefore should not be in the form of pajamas.