Teen Bed Wetting …Why Would A 13-Year-Old Wet The Bed?

“Don’t worry, they will outgrow it”. Is this something you’ve heard before? How many times has the bedwetting teen heard this?  After years of waiting and being frustrated, people are saying they’ve had enough! This is why we continue to see more teenagers and adults enter our program. They don’t want to wait another year.

Your pediatrician is undoubtedly committed to your child’s health and wellbeing, yet wetting the bed is not a medical condition. So without expertise in the field of bedwetting treatment, doctors are often telling families to wait, and this can come with a price.

There may also be well-meaning family members or friends who suggest to wait. Or perhaps you, yourself, had outgrown bedwetting, and it seemed logical to wait for your child to outgrow it as well.

Yet outgrowing bedwetting is not a certainty. In fact, if it should happen, doing so may be counterproductive to one’s health. More about that in a moment.

We know what bedwetters and their families are experiencing with the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month challenge of waiting…of having to even think about bedwetting. The costly disposable diapers, the wet sheets, the labor to clean the sheets; living with the resignation, guilt, and confusion. This causes stress, of course, and it’s actually unnecessary and can be ended. We imagine you’re feeling relieved to hear that.

We’ve heard hundreds of stories of despair over the years, and we’d like to share one here that highlights the impact of holding on to the hope that bedwetting will be outgrown.

We are focusing on teen bedwetting. Since the average of our patients is 15. So here’s the story about 13-year-old Ben.

Imagine you’re a boy of 13 who is in middle school with lots of friends, and you excel in sports. Your academic, family, and personal life are all going well. Yet you live every day with a secret–one that you have been keeping for most of your life.

There have also been limitations and consequences for you that are hidden from others. Perhaps you’ve had to turn down invitations to sleepovers and avoid camp stays, and your friends began to wonder why. Slowly they stopped inviting you, and your world got smaller and disconnected.

You had reached a point where you pleaded with your mom to stop asking the doctor for bedwetting help during your Well Visit. After all, what’s the point? All you keep hearing is “Wait, Ben…you’ll outgrow it. You will not have to wet the bed for long. One day you’ll just suddenly stop. Can’t say when, though”. Surely it’s discouraging and embarrassing to talk about your bedwetting any further.

In the back of your mind, you must be feeling helpless. Maybe you’re resigned to thinking you’ll have to live with the hardships of bedwetting for the rest of your life.

“Why can’t a doctor fix this”?

Going to bed every night is difficult knowing that when you open your eyes in the morning, you’ll feel the cold, wet bed or diaper, and you may start your day discouraged. We are guessing you’re feeling unrested as well. This is another sign of the sleep disorder at the heart of the bedwetting issue.

Let’s explore that assertion here.

With 42 years as bedwetting specialists, we clearly understand the relationship between a deep, heavy sleep pattern and bedwetting. In fact, our entire process is based on a groundbreaking study that was discovered by our founder, Barbara Moore, in 1976. This was the breakthrough that was needed to stop bed wetting for our founder, Barbara Moore’s daughter, for whom the protocol was developed.

In 1969 when a foremost sleep researcher by the name of Dr. Roger Broughton had identified what he called the non-arousable sleep disorder, he proved the pattern of sleep for a bedwetter is far different from healthy (non-bedwetting) sleep. For the healthy sleeper, the body actually goes through various sleep cycles. We cycle from light to deep (Stage 1 to Stage 4), then enter a lighter stage known as REM (dream sleep), and then we begin all over again. This cycle occurs approximately every 90-120 minutes, and this is what creates restful sleep and ensures the brain is appropriately nourished and responsive.

Such is not the case with the specific pattern of sleep that produces bedwetting. Dr. Broughton spent years studying sleep and validating why bedwetting happens. This is why our approach is based on his findings and why it’s working. It’s based in science. Our program has been highly successful since we have been treating patients from this proven perspective. When a 13-year-old like Ben falls asleep, they drop into a very deep, heavy sleep and stall rather than cycle. He remains in this very hard sleep much longer than is required, and it can rob him of the opportunity for restorative, restful sleep. It’s actually a sleep deficiency. Anytime there’s a deficit in any given situation in life, it has a negative effect. So imagine if someone is experiencing bad sleep every night of their life? Parents of a seven year old cannot image the possibility of their child experiencing teen bedwetting. Yet it’s a real concern, and it gets increasingly more detrimental as time goes on.

For tweens and teens, sleep is even more important. “One possible implication of our study is that if you lose too much sleep during adolescence, especially chronically, there may be lasting consequences in terms of the wiring of the brain,” according to investigator Chiara Cirelli, MD, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health. “Adolescence is a sensitive period of development during which the brain changes dramatically. There is a massive remodeling of nerve circuits, with many new synapses formed and then eliminated.”

Let’s take a moment to take a closer look into the stage of REM sleep.

  • REM sleep important to the health of the brain for many reasons, including the creation of long-term memories.
  • REM sleep also increases brain activity, promotes learning, and creates dreams.
  • REM is also attributed to the fact that during this phase of sleep, your brain exercises important neural connections which are key to mental and overall well-being and health.

It’s also imperative for us to mention that not having the normal cycling of sleep stages—not accessing REM sleep regularly throughout the night and thus creating the sleep deficit–can also pose challenges during waking hours, as you can imagine. Waking up wet and tired, a bedwetter faces the day differently. Now they have to go to school and interact, and also be expected to perform to full potential. This can be quite difficult. In fact, many difficulties that a bedwetter faces—including ADD and ADHD—are not often traced back to the sleep disorder by professionals. It’s not a lack of competency; it’s a lack of proper knowledge. Therefore, challenges persist–if not increase—over time. Even if doing well academically, there is the underlying and increasingly challenging sleep issue which expresses itself more obviously over time.

Also worthy of noting: We have seen over the years that as a child continues to wet and becomes more acutely aware of their challenges and feeling “different” or even defeated, they tend to withdraw from social activities that are important to them, but are now feeling too uncomfortable to participate in.

We mentioned that outgrowing bed wetting can be counterproductive to one’s health. That’s because IF somebody happens to outgrow the bedwetting issue, the sleep disorder remains, and other symptoms can emerge over time such as sleep apnea, sleep walking, night terrors, excessive snoring, teeth grinding, etc. There can be unpleasant life-altering consequences to each of these. Changing the pattern of sleep is not only going to stop bedwetting, it’s also going to prevent any other symptoms from developing.

Our experience has shown that once the sleep pattern has been impacted and there’s normal cycling, as Dr. Broughton references, healthy sleep cycling has a chance to take root. You begin to see significant improvements, such as with disposition, focus, concentration, energy expenditure, alertness, connection, etc.

When a patient is free of detrimental sleep and achieving good sleep for the first time in their lives, positive benefits abound. Besides, it’s rewarding to see your child start their day in a dry bed and knowing you made that difference for them. And what an enormous difference they will feel!

Working 42 years as bedwetting specialists, we have helped thousands of children, tweens, teens—and yes, adults–who continue wetting the bed. We find most of our adult patients have led solitary, isolated lives hiding in shame. This is sad and unfortunate considering that nobody has to live with bedwetting. Nobody.

83% of parents of 9-16 year olds tell us that they regret following their physician’s advice to wait. They reported feeling misled and dismissed. You can see the impact that the hoping, wishing, and waiting can have. We are here to ensure that our patients experience the sleep they are born to have—need to have–and the dry bed every morning that they deserve to have.

GaileGaile Nixon,
International Director and First Patient of ETC

Summer Camp Tips For Bedwetting Child or Teen

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This is the time of year when we hear from parents about the fear of letting their child attend summer camp.

As for the child, they are torn between terror and excitement.  The excitement is because, of course, it’s summer camp…a time to do nothing but laugh and play.  And then there’s the terror.  That is the most fitting word to use, because we hear and we know that the thing all bedwetters dread the most is being discovered, and they’ll go to great lengths to hide their condition. 

We spoke with a mom last week who thought she had fully prepared her 13-year-old son to attend camp and to completely conceal his bedwetting with the use of Pull-Ups.  Her careful planning was undermined by a member of the camp staff.  She was devastated when she discovered what happened that put her son at risk for exposure.  This mom gave us permission to tell her story with the hope that other parents can avert the kind of experience she had. 

Here is her story.  Following this are the 5 Critical Steps we recommend to ensure you greater peace of mind.  

This mom, (Lydia), and her son, (Bryce), agreed that wearing a diaper was the only way to feel comfortable to sleep in a cabin with other campers.  At her son’s insistence, they purchased all diaper brands and sizes so he could do what he called “test driving” all of them in search of the “quietest” one.  All of this to prevent someone from hearing the sound of moving around in a diaper.  After all, it’s a noticeable sound.  They practiced how he would slide it on once he was in his sleeping bag at night, and how he would discreetly dispose of them in the morning.  Not the most exciting thing to have to add to a care-free camp experience.  

Typically this plan is the most successful.

However, Lydia did not learn until nine months later–as we were discussing a plan to put an end to Bryce’s bedwetting–what occurred during her son’s camp stay.  When he had checked in with the camp director as his mom advised him to do, Bryce was told that they required he use their own chosen disposable diaper for legal reasons, and that they needed to exchange them before he could be admitted.  In our consultation with this family, Lydia discovered that Bryce was afraid to challenge them since they were in charge.  As you can imagine, Bryce was terrified that someone would find out he was wearing a diaper, so he chose not to wear a diaper and stay awake all night to avoid a wet.  He said he was typically exhausted all day, which prevented him from participating in a few enjoyable activities.  He would take a nap wearing the camp-issued diaper because no one was around.  Bryce told us that he didn’t tell his mother that he was miserable because he didn’t want her to be sad.

Summer camps may report to parents that they know how to deal with bed wetting, even bed wetting teens. However, you need to be assured that your child will be protected from potential harm just as with Bryce, so we encourage you to have an in-depth conversation with a director before the day arrives.  

Here are The Five Critical Steps:

1.  Identify not only the director(s) of the camp, but also the person(s) assigned to your child’s cabin.  You need to be assured by them that they will be discreet.  Ask them what their protocol is.  Make sure they can provide special assistance to ensure the bedwetting won’t be discovered.  Discovery is devastating for a bed wetter.  That discovery can certainly cause long-term damage to self-esteem. 

2.   Notify the director that you will be providing your own privacy package which may include the following:  Diapers, non-scented wet wipes, a trash bag, a suitcase with a lock, and whatever else it is you feel would help put your child’s mind at ease.

3.  Ask to review their procedures for dealing with this issue.  You need to become partners on behalf of your child.  Present different scenarios and ask how they would deal with each scenario.  For example, if a camp counselor is unavailable, then who would be able to assist your child during if needed.

4.  Don’t assume a so-called “bedwetting medication” will keep your child dry.  The medication is intended to slow kidney function and limit urine production.   It is NOT reliable and should not be depended upon to ensure dryness.  Even if the drug was used in previous camp stays or overnights and it was successful in keeping your child dry, there is no guarantee it will do they same again. Additionally, the medication has a dehydrating effect on the body and requires extra hydration during the day, so make sure you child has a water bottle available to him when active.  

5.  Daytime accidents are often a symptom from the nighttime bedwetting.  In the event of daytime leaking or accidents, you need to know what the counselors will do if your child reports leaking to them.  Make sure there is a plan for a change of clothing as well. 

Once you have established a clear plan with the camp, review it with your child.  Your child, tween, or bedwetting teen needs to have confidence in their camp team, to know they can be trusted, and that everyone understands the situation and will be there to help.  Let your child know that you’ll be one phone call away.

GaileGaile Nixon,
International Director and First Patient of ETC