Why is bed-wetting on the rise among older children?

Bedwetting in older children has often been blamed on anxiety - but what if there are other factors at play?
Bedwetting in older children has often been blamed on anxiety - but what if there are other factors at play? Credit: Elva Etienne/Getty Images

More than 750,000 children in Britain accidentally wet their beds at night after the age of five and the number of teenagers is increasing. Once considered to be related primarily to anxiety, it’s clear that other factors are playing a part in this growing problem.  

According to figures published by the British Medical Journal, at the age of five as many as 20 children in 100 will have difficulty controlling their bladders at night-time. By age seven, this figure drops to around eight children in every 100, and by age 10, there are still five children in every 100 experiencing problems.

Many children are getting stuck with a bed-wetting habit, and experts are now beginning to agree that lifestyle factors are more likely to be the cause.  Some of the reasons given for this increasing problem are the superior absorbency of modern-day nappies that prevent babies and young children from feeling wet, which means missing out on valuable learning experiences on how to stay dry. 

Busy family lives that interfere with consistent training methods together with the poor quality of school toilets, lack of opportunities to drink water throughout the day and a highly processed diet are all factors that can contribute to the problem.

Is modern nappy technology to blame for the rise in bed-wetting? Credit: Getty Images


Supermarkets stock night-time protection for children aged nine to 15 years, giving the impression that it’s not unusual to be a teenager in a nappy.

I first started seeing children for bed-wetting problems in my Harley Street practice in 2004 and became increasingly worried by the growing number of patients, many of them teenagers who, through no fault of their own, were stuck with this miserable habit. Bed-wetting dents a child’s confidence and their social development, with sleepovers and school trips causing stress and anxiety.

Sometimes the problem can even change the course of a young person’s life. I’ve worked with more than one child who had to decline a part in a well-known London theatre production because the role demanded they live in the theatre company’s children’s house for a period of six weeks – and bed-wetters simply weren’t allowed.

Worse still, I was unhappy to see so many children on prescription medications that dry up bodily fluids, in the hope that these would solve the problem. Often they don’t, and I’ve seen many children with side effects such as very dry skin and constant headaches that impair schoolwork. If these drugs don’t work, then an antidepressant may be prescribed, in the hope that it will have a relaxing effect on the bladder and stop it from emptying at night.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve lost our way in tackling this problem. 

Bedwetting is not a problem that children should have to put up with until they “grow out of it”, as so many of the experts would have us believe – nor should they have to take drugs. 

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The solution lies inside the body rather than outside in the form of alarms and medications. There’s a complex coordination that needs to take place between the mind and body. New neural pathways need to be made in the brain in order to control the bladder more efficiently and achieve night-time dryness.

My behavioural change programme incorporates visualisation techniques and success strategies from the fields of positive psychology, hypnotherapy, mindfulness and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), all techniques regularly used by top athletes to enhance their physical performance.

People are often surprised when I tell them that I help children overcome their problems using these types of therapies. But a young child’s brain is in its most fertile developmental phase with new neural pathways being created all the time – this is the perfect time to be using techniques that support their development, rather than waiting until they acquire a problem and trying to fix it later.

It makes perfect sense to solve a problem like bed-wetting through the power of the mind, rather than prescribing expensive medications that no parent wants to use and that cost the health service unnecessary expenditure.

Alicia Eaton is a trained psychotherapist, and author of Stop Bedwetting in Seven Days published by Practical Inspiration Publishing. To find out more go to:

What advice do you have for someone whose child still wets the bed? Share your tips in the comments section below and in the Telegraph Parenting Facebook Group