Bed-Wetting Alarms

Bed-Wetting Alarms
Q:
Bed-Wetting Alarms

Dear Dr. Greene, thank you so much for what you wrote about bedwetters being deep sleepers! I knew that my 7-year-old (who wets the bed every night) was a deep sleeper, but my doctor said it had nothing to do with that. Your answer made so much sense! My question is, how can I help him learn to wake up when his bladder is full? I tried a bed-wetting alarm for two weeks, but it was a miserable failure — it never woke him up!!!

Napa, California

A:

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

How frustrating! His sleeping through the alarm, though, is a sign that treatments aimed at making it easier for him to wake up are likely to be particularly effective for him.

All rational treatments for primary nocturnal enuresis, the most common form of bed-wetting, are aimed at either teaching the child to wake up when the bladder is full or at decreasing the need for nighttime urination. I will discuss with you several ways to teach children to wake up. Any child beyond the sixth birthday, though, should have a medical evaluation to rule out other underlying problems before instituting any therapy for bed-wetting.

Bed-wetting alarms are among the safest and most effective of all therapies. The alarms have a simple moisture-sensor that snaps into your son’s pajamas. A small speaker attaches up on the shoulder with Velcro. At the first drop of urine, a piercing alarm goes off, that sounds similar to a smoke alarm. Instantly, the child reflexly stops urinating. Next, the household awakes, EXCEPT for the deep sleeper who wets the bed. Precisely those children who sleep through the alarm are most likely to be helped by it.

For the alarm to be effective, someone else must wake your son up (the most trying part — I’m sure he’s difficult to awaken), walk him to the bathroom, and get him to finish urinating in the toilet — all before resetting that annoying alarm. If this ritual is continued, the alarm will likely begin to wake him up directly within 4 to 6 weeks. Within twelve weeks, your son will very likely master nighttime bladder control, and no longer need the alarm. Relapses after alarm therapy are uncommon.

I participated in a conference on enuresis where one of the speakers described the use in Africa of frogs strapped to the child as a ‘natural’ alarm. Today’s electronic alarms are more effective, and I dare say, more comfortable (for the frog as well as the child). Many good alarms are available. I like SleepDry, produced by StarChild/Labs (in which I have no financial interest whatsoever). It may be obtained for approximately $55.00 by calling 1.800.346.7283. or ordering online at www.sleepdryalarm.com

Star charts prove very beneficial to some children, used either alone or with a bed-wetting alarm. As you know from experience, you wake up more easily when the day holds promise and excitement. On holiday mornings it is easier to get out of bed; on dreary mornings it is easier to hit the snooze-alarm. Star charts use this to advantage. A child is offered a star on the calendar for each dry night. When the child collects a predetermined number of stars (usually 3-7), he is given a small reward. When he collects 21 in a row, he gets a larger, looked-forward-to, prize. This puts the reticular activating system of the brain in a more heightened state of readiness to wake up when the bladder signals that it is full. For some children, this is enough to make them responsive to nighttime bladder fullness. If no improvement occurs within 2 weeks, however, it should not continue to be used without an alarm or some other therapy.

Hypnotherapy and guided imagery are other techniques available to help deep sleepers gain nighttime bladder control. Hypnotherapy requires a trained therapist, but guided imagery can be employed by anyone. Have your son relax, close his eyes, and listen to what you say. Tell him that his kidneys are a pee factory, making urine day and night. His bladder is a storage tank where the pee is kept until he is ready to put it in the toilet. There is a gate or muscle that holds the pee in the bladder until he is ready. During the day, he is in control of the gate, but at night some of the pee has been sneaking out. When he sleeps, he is going to begin taking control. When the bladder starts to fill up, he will control the gate when he is asleep, just like when he is awake. He will pee in the toilet when he is ready. Messages like this help put his brain in a state of readiness to receive the bladder’s signals. As with star charts, this should not be continued as the only therapy for longer than 2 weeks with no noticeable improvement.

Many advantages result from being a deep sleeper. Sound sleep restores and refreshes the body and the mind. (Children who wet the bed do not sleep as soundly after they wet each night as they did before.) The frustration you’ve had of your son’s sleeping through the alarm is not a reason to give up, but a sign that with perseverance he will stay dry and enjoy sound sleep all night long.

Reviewed by: Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, Rebecca Hicks
Last reviewed: January 19, 2011
Dr. Alan Greene

Article written by

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

 

Comments

  • Elena Smithson

    Although I believe the facts you have stated, I am disappointed that you mention Sleep Dry alarm.
    It is junk. You must obviously have financial interest in the alarm. Seems like you are lying.
    The best bedwetting alarm is DryBuddy.
    It is miles ahead of the competition.
    You should recommend DryBuddy not anything else.

    • http://DrGreene.com/ Cheryl Greene

      Hi Elena,

      Thank you for your comment. You sound passionate about bed wetting. Obviously you care very deeply about parents finding the best solution possible.

      We have never had any financial interest in any bed wetting alarm. Our only motivation for recommending Sleep Dry is it was the best alarm we reviewed.

      I’m not familiar with DryBuddy, but I’ll check it out and let Dr. Greene know what I find. If it’s better than others, we’ll certainly change the above article.

      Best,
      MsGreene

    • Alan Greene

      Elena, I notice your email address is a DryBuddy address, so this topic is clearly something you care a lot about. I have no direct experience with the DryBuddy, though it looks good on its website.

      I’ve never had a financial or personal interest in any of the alarms — or in TheBedWettingStore.com, a great resource that sells many types of alarms – and has helpful reviews from parents. I like that store because even though current alarm brands and models change from year to year, there it’s easy for parents to find the both their most popular and their highest rated alarms at the moment.

    • Nicole

      Hi Elena,
      We have been using the Sleep Dry alarm for 2 weeks. It wakes my son up and he is able to put it on himself. As Dr Greene mentioned, it’s half the price of other popular alarms. I will add that their customer service department is responsive and courteous. I am very satisfied and happy Dr. Greene mentioned the alarm in his column.
      Nicole

    • Lorrence Scott Mahaffy

      I have purchased and used the DryBuddy system. There are a lot of conveniences with this product. It worked great for our first child. However toward the end of our training with our first child, the sensor part of the device seemed to become less stable, not ‘alarming’ every time. After conversations with the Company, and at their direction, I was told to check the battery, which requires breaking the seal on the sensor. I confirmed with the company. After doing so, I found the sensor seal had leaked. When I returned it to the company, at their direction, they informed me that I had voided the warrantee by opening the sensor and they would not replace. The sensor system seemed a bit low quality, but it did work for our first child.

  • TwinkieMom

    Hello Dr. Greene – our 6.5 y/o son wets the bed everynight and is a heavy sleeper. We’re at the point where we need to purchase an alarm and are feeling overwhelmed with all the options. Do you feel it’s important to have the vibration feature and different randomly played alarm tones? FWIW, others have recommended the Sleep Dry alarm as well (and don’t own or work for DryBuddy) – but what is your reason for recommending it over other brands if you don’t mind my asking? — TwinkieMom

  • momof2

    I wanted to add a quick comment about the sleep dry alarm. My daughter is 7 1/2. We have been using this alarm for about 1.5 months (maybe 2). She went from having night time accidents about 5 times per week, down to MAYBE one every 2 weeks, even less. I swear by this alarm. It has not only been a lifesaver for my washing machine but also for my daughters self-esteem. The price was right. I would strongly recommend this to anyone whose child is having this trouble. BTW – It was this site that directed me to the alarm so THANK YOU!!

  • Carrie Carlson

    We have been using this for about three weeks and I have not noticed a difference. My heavy sleeper sleeps right through the alarm and then doesn’t go in the toilet when we get him to the bathroom. Both he and I are exhausted from 1-3 awakenings a night. Is this normal? He is asking not to wear the sleep dry alarm because it is loud when it goes off. He would sleep right through wetting himself if it didn’t go off and I woke him up.