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Sleep Disorders: Bed-Wetting in Kids

Bed-wetting, or nocturnal enuresis, occurs when a child urinates in his sleep. Bed-wetting is fairly common: About 5 to 7 million children over age 6 regularly wet their bed. Most children do not need bed-wetting treatment and outgrow it.

What Causes Bed-Wetting?

While a small number of bed-wetting cases are due to medical conditions, such as a kidney infection or other urological problems, bed-wetting is most often a developmental issue. Children who wet the bed simply don't "shut off" urine production at night. This ability normally occurs around age 5, when bed-wetting will stop on its own for 90% of kids, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

While babies produce urine around the clock, toddlers start to go to the bathroom on a daytime and nighttime schedule once their bodies start to produce a substance called 'anti-diuretic hormone' (ADH) that inhibits urine production. In addition, as kids mature they become more sensitive to the feeling (produced by stretching of the bladder walls) that they need to urinate.

Children who continue to wet the bed beyond age 6 may not be producing enough ADH hormone at appropriate times, or may not yet be attuned to their bodies' signals, or both.

Bed-wetting in children may also be caused by sleep apnea. Although immaturity of the bladder or other medical conditions are more common, the possibility of sleep apnea must be considered when a child is being evaluated for bed-wetting problems.

When to Seek Treatment for Bed-Wetting

While most children will simply outgrow bed-wetting, for some it may become a problem. Parents should consider treatment for bed-wetting if their child is still wetting the bed between ages 6 and 7, according to the National Enuresis Society -- or sooner if the child seems troubled by bed-wetting. In addition, no matter the age, if other symptoms are present, such as if your child has the urge to urinate more frequently or if urinating is accompanied by burning, seek medical care immediately.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on October 17, 2015

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