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.