Nocturnal Enuresis: Causes of Bedwetting in Adults and Teenagers

Wetting the bed can be highly embarrassing and alarming for adults and especially if you suspect it may point to a more serious underlying condition. At the same time, bedwetting is also highly inconvenient – it’s a nasty shock for a partner if you don’t sleep alone, it’s not great for a sound night’s rest and it’s a quick way to make extra washing for yourself.

If you wet the bed then, it’s important to get the bottom of what might be causing it and to address this issue so that you can get back to normal as soon as possible. Here we will look at some of the possible causes of bedwetting in adults to put your mind at rest and to help you prevent it happening again.

Nocturnal Enuresis

The technical term for bedwetting is ‘nocturnal enuresis’, though it is also known as ‘night-time urinary incontinence’. This is any ‘involuntary’ or unintentional urination during sleep and comes in two distinct types: primary and secondary.

Primary nocturnal enuresis is bedwetting that has occurred since childhood. If you have never been able to sleep without fear of wetting the bed, then this is what you are suffering with. Most people reading this article however will be experiencing secondary enuresis, which describes ‘one off’ occurrences, or people who have reverted back to bedwetting.


Before you get too worried, it’s worth noting that only around 5-10% of cases of primary nocturnal enuresis are caused by medical conditions. In primary cases this is usually a developmental delay that will solve itself. In secondary cases there may be a medical issue, but it is unlikely to be a serious problem.

For secondary cases, common causes include psychological issues such as emotional stress and bladder infections. In rarer cases it can be the result of neurological disorders or more serious conditions affecting the prostate and other areas. Thus adults experiencing bedwetting should see a doctor to rule out medical causes.

In other scenarios bedwetting can be a side effect of medication or of excessive alcohol consumption (because alcohol is a diuretic and affects the nervous system). Constipation can also cause bedwetting as it places pressure on the bladder. Finally, excessive tiredness can also cause bedwetting as it leads to deep sleep and in turn prevents us from recognising that we need to wake up and go to the toilet.


One of the most common explanations given for bedwetting is that it is caused by stress. In fact though, studies have failed to conclusively demonstrate a link between anxiety and bedwetting, but there are a number of ways it could become a contributory factor.

For one, we all know that fear can cause people to wet themselves which is a result of the ‘fight or flight response’ which can override the inhibitory instructions of your prefrontal cortex. It’s almost like your brain gets distracted and ‘forgets’ to control your bladder. Seeing as stress can cause vivid nightmares – especially in young children – it can also lead to bedwetting.

Another issue is that stress and anxiety can affect decisions such as diet, sleep patterns and motivation. These could all indirectly affect one’s ability to wake in the night due to signals from the bladder and thus avoid bedwetting.


If this is a problem you’re experiencing, what can you do to combat it?

One solution is to start drinking less water prior to bed – and certainly to avoid diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol. Stress management could also be useful, using methods such as meditation or counselling. If you are not getting enough sleep then you should look to improve the quantity and quality that you fit in. You should also consider ceasing medications that list bedwetting or incontinence as possible side effects.

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