Without question, being a parent lets you enjoy countless wonderful and truly fun experiences with your child. Potty training, on the other hand, often ranks near the top of the “not-so-fun” list.
To make matters worse, you may be more than a bit discouraged to find out that nighttime potty training can be a completely new task even after your child has mastered using the toilet during the day.
What is it that can make staying dry all night such a challenge? The reason behind nighttime accidents could be one of a number of things, including your child’s level of physical development or even their genetics.
In all likelihood, you aren’t doomed to be buying overnight diapers forever. There are several strategies you can try to help your child wake up dry, although it’s important to remember that the success of any nighttime potty training method depends on the underlying issue. Furthermore, even if wetting the bed turns out to be something your child just has to outgrow, rest assured that dry day will come in time.
Why is My Potty Trained Child Still Wetting the Bed at Night?
There are a few possibilities as to what might be behind your child’s difficulty staying dry at night.
Not every child grows at the same pace, and your child could be having nighttime accidents simply because their bladder hasn’t had enough time to catch up to the rest of their body. Keep in mind that a still-growing bladder may only present a problem at night since your child has the opportunity to use the potty several times throughout the day.
There are rare individuals whose bladders stay smaller than the average for their entire life. However, these cases are very infrequent, and it’s highly likely that your child’s bladder will grow to the normal size in time.
Immature Muscle Control
The human bladder contains two separate sets of muscles that oppose each other. These muscles work to either close the bladder’s opening and hold the urine in or help expel it when the bladder is full.
The detrusor muscle surrounds the entire bladder, and it usually remains relaxed and stretchy as the bladder gradually fills with urine. Two sets of urethral sphincter muscles sit at the bottom of the bladder, and they normally stay tightly contracted until the brain signals them to relax and release urine. When the sphincter muscles relax, the detrusor muscle contracts to push the urine out.
Babies and young toddlers are unable to consciously control these muscles, and the ability to hold urine in until an appropriate time is a developmental skill that each child must learn on their own. Some children’s brains require a bit of extra time to fine-tune these muscular actions, and this can be especially true during the long overnight hours.
Wetting the bed seems to be a generational occurrence. If you, your partner or any grandparents took a little longer to learn to stay dry all night, your children may have a higher chance of facing the same situation.
Young children are often naturally sound sleepers, and they may be in such a deep sleep that their brains aren’t able to effectively process the bladder’s fullness signals.
If your child’s body is over-tired from a lack of sleep during the day or a late bedtime, they could be especially prone to missing overnight potty cues.
In a minority of cases, a child who is physically capable of staying dry all night has simply reached the conclusion that urinating in their diaper or bed is easier than making a trip to the potty.
What is the Difference Between Nighttime and Daytime Potty Training?
Daytime potty training is often a product of teaching, your child’s emotional readiness and your frequent reminders or prompts. On the other hand, staying dry all night is almost completely an issue of physical development:
- Your child’s bladder needs to have grown large enough to contain several hours’ worth of urine.
- Your child’s muscles need to be able to obey the brain’s signals not to empty the bladder until an appropriate time.
In essence, you really can’t train a child to stay dry all night if they aren’t physically ready.
When is the Best Time to Start?
Although some children master both daytime and nighttime potty training simultaneously, most do not. Give your child the time they need to feel confident in going potty during the day before you move on to staying dry all night. Roughly six months of consistent daytime potty use is a good sign that your child might be ready for overnight potty training.
Additionally, pay attention to how wet your child’s diaper is first thing in the morning. If your child starts regularly waking up with a dry diaper for at least seven consecutive days, you can be pretty confident that they will also stay dry in underwear.
How Long Does it Take?
Unfortunately, there is no set time frame for when your child will start staying dry every night. Each child develops at their own pace and has their own unique challenge to overcome.
Some children may respond to overnight potty training methods right away, while others may need more time or have an occasional setback. The way you respond to your child’s progress overall is more important than reaching the goal as fast as possible.
Should My Child Use Training Pants or Underwear Overnight?
You may have heard parents recommend one or the other of these options, and they may imply that their recommendation is the only way to go. No one method works for every child, however, and the right choice for your family is the one that fits your child’s individual needs.
Training pants might be a better choice if either of these statements is true:
- Your child seems distressed about waking up wet.
- You have unsuccessfully tried methods of helping them learn to stay dry.
Your child’s bladder could just need some additional time to grow, or your child is still working on mastering their muscle control. Don’t let yourself believe that using diapers or training pants overnight is a sign of failure. It just means that now is not the right time, and you can try again in a few weeks.
Letting your child sleep in underwear may be an appropriate choice in these instances:
- You suspect that your child is physically able to stay dry all night but doesn’t realize why it’s important to do so. Experience is a powerful teacher, and waking up in a wet bed may be the push some children need to master proper nighttime potty use.
- Your child consistently uses the potty during the day or wakes up dry for several days in a row.
Both approaches have their benefits and downsides. You are the one who knows your child best, so always base your decision on your child’s specific situation.
When to Ask Your Health Care Provider for Help
Most of the time, health care providers don’t consider wetting the bed to be a problem until your child is about seven years old. In fact, about 15% of seven-year-olds still have problems staying dry at least occasionally.
Although it is usually nothing to worry about, never hesitate to contact your health care provider if you have any concerns about your child’s nighttime potty training. If nothing else, your provider will be able to reassure you that there is no cause for concern and hopefully give you some encouragement.
Nighttime Potty Training Tips
As a parent in this situation, your role doesn’t have to be limited to washing extra loads of soiled bedding or buying more training pants. Even though you can’t control your child’s physical development, you can help them learn healthy habits and routines that can put them in a better position to stay dry all night.
Use the potty as part of your nightly bedtime routine
Making sure your child starts the night with an empty bladder can help set the stage for a successful, dry night.
Include going potty in your normal bedtime routine, and tell your child why it is important. Explain that putting their urine in the potty before going to sleep can help them avoid putting it in their bed or training pants overnight.
You can also normalize a bedtime trip to the potty by telling your child that you always make sure to go right before bed, too.
Put your child on the potty one more time before you go to bed
This trick can provide an extra layer of reassurance that your child’s bladder is as empty as possible for the night.
Right before your own bedtime, pick up your sleeping child and set them on the potty. Even if they are not fully awake, exposure to the cooler air will usually be the incentive most children need to urinate. Hold them steady on the toilet while they go, then put their pajamas back on and place your child back in their bed. The ultimate goal is to give your child’s body the chance to learn how to obey nighttime urination cues independently.
However, only try this strategy if your child is a good sleeper and you’re confident they will stay or go back to sleep easily. It’s not worth thoroughly waking your child up and causing them to miss precious sleep.
Make sure your child gets adequate sleep every day
An over-tired child could sleep so deeply that their brain doesn’t get the signal that the bladder is full, so making healthy sleep a priority could help your child make overnight trips to the potty independently.
Enforce a reasonable bedtime every night, and do your best to make sure your child gets a daytime nap if they need one.
A more insidious cause of sleep deprivation could be in the form of a technological device’s screen. Tablets, smartphones, computers and televisions produce primarily blue wavelengths of light. These blue lights mimic the wavelengths found in natural daylight, and exposing your child to blue light before bed could disrupt their body’s day/night rhythm by tricking the brain into thinking that it’s not time to go to sleep. Your child could have a difficult time falling asleep at an appropriate time, and you could wind up with an over-tired child who sleeps through potty cues.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children between the ages of two and five should have no more than one hour of screen time every day. Give your child that hour at least two to three hours before their bedtime to give their brain enough time to wind down.
Limit the amount of liquids your child drinks during the evening
While you certainly want to provide your child with adequate hydration, try to avoid giving excessive amounts of water, juice, milk or other fluids after dinner.
Some children may ask for several drinks at bedtime as a way of delaying actually going to bed. If this situation happens in your home, give your child a small drink the first couple of times they ask, then tell them that’s enough. You may also want to make an additional trip to the potty after a drink.
Fruit can be a good bedtime snack, but be careful which one you choose. Watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe are all very hydrating, so they could be a stealthy source of nighttime accidents. If your child wants a healthy sweet before bed, offer a banana instead.
Monitor the amount of salt in your child’s diet
There are a host of reasons why too much salt in a child’s diet is unhealthy, but excessive salt intake could also contribute to your child’s soaked bed.
Salt causes the human body to retain water, and this increased fluid level could overwhelm your child’s bladder during the nighttime hours. Additionally, eating salty foods could make your child thirsty, and they may take in extra water that winds up in their bed a few hours later.
Limit the number of salty snacks your child eats, and try to replace them with fresh fruit or vegetables. Additionally, don’t add extra salt to your child’s portions of family meals.
Let your child know they aren’t in trouble for wetting the bed, and there is nothing to be ashamed of
If your child has an accident overnight, try not to let your frustration show. Toddlers are often too young to feel real embarrassment about wetting the bed, but they will absolutely pick up on an angry or disapproving tone from you.
Maintaining a calm attitude is definitely not always easy, especially if your child wakes you out of a dead sleep again to let you know they need new pajamas and sheets. Don’t beat yourself up if you sometimes respond in an irritated manner; you are human, after all. The best you can do is to apologize to your child and tell them that you love them whether they have an accident to not.
Your child is not doing this on purpose, and they need you to patiently and faithfully help them without shaming them. Overnight accidents are a surprisingly common problem for the first several years of life, but take comfort in the fact that it will almost certainly end. Your child is getting older and more aware of their body and their surroundings every day, and this can be a great opportunity to give your child unconditional love and support.
Nighttime potty training can definitely be a frustrating and discouraging parenting experience. The good news is that many of the reasons behind the issue are due to physical development, and your child should learn how to stay dry on their own in time.
Making some changes to your child’s daily routine, sleep schedule and diet could make a big difference, but you may also just have to wait it out and provide support in the meantime.
Regardless of the reason why your child struggles to stay dry, one thing that remains the same is that your child needs your love and guidance through this time. Think of it as a chance to model patient, encouraging behavior that your child can emulate with others. In the absence of a true physical problem, urine-soaked diapers and sheets will one day be a thing of the past, but the lessons you teach your child during this phase can be an inspiration for their entire life.
What has your experience with nighttime potty training been like? Which training methods did you find useful, and which ones didn’t seem to help much? Tell us about it in the comments!