Will He Ever Wake Up Dry?

Q: Our nearly 5-year-old son has been daytime potty trained since 22 months but has never been nighttime dry. He had his tonsils and adenoids out a few months ago, and our pediatrician said that may help with his deep sleep/bedwetting and waking up since he had snoring and sleep apnea. He recovered very well and has stopped snoring.

We put him in undies at night over a month ago, and he didn’t even wake up when he was wet until it got cold. We got a bed alarm almost three weeks ago and have used it nightly since, but we seem to be going backwards with it. It is the kind that clips to his undies. He was waking up a little with the alarm at first (at least sitting up in bed, but not really awake), and we would go in a help him wake up, then walk himself to the bathroom, change his own clothes, cover the wet spot if there was one, and we help get the clip back his undies in the right spot.

The past week, he is completely sleeping through the alarm. we try to nicely but firmly wake him up, turn the lights on, and get him to the bathroom, but he is often so disoriented he just starts crying—sometimes turning into screaming. He is now only wetting about once a night (an improvement from three to four times!), but I am not sure if there is anything else we can do?

The screaming and crying is the part I am really struggling with—hard to keep calm in the middle of the night when he won’t get up! Do we just keep going helping him wake up, sometimes having to drag him out of the bed? Wanted to start potty training my 19 month old in about a month, but don’t know if I can handle both!

A: Let me first dispel some common myths about nighttime training based on my own experience and the experience of many friends, plus some commonsense.

First, wetting the bed is more biology than anything. A child who wets the bed on a regular basis literally can’t help it—he sleeps too soundly to wake up when his body tells him he has to pee.

Second, nighttime training has nothing to do with a child’s daytime potty training. Often, a boy will master daytime well before night time.

Third, bed wetting alarms only work when a child is ready for nighttime training. As you’ve seen yourself, your son is sleeping soundly through the alarm.

It’s obvious that your son isn’t ready biologically to not wet the bed. Some boys (my two sons included) aren’t ready for night time training until age 5 or even 6. Sometimes, family genes can play a part, such as one friend whose sons wet the bed until 8 or 9—her husband and his brothers experienced the same thing.

So I would ditch the undies at night and the bed-wetting alarm, and go back to diapers or a pull up at night. Have him put it on and take it off in the morning, etc.

When will he be ready to transition to undies at night? A good rule of thumb is when he starts waking up dry three or four mornings out of seven. When he does that for a week or two, then you can try underwear again. His body will tell him when he’s ready.