What to do about drunken bedwetting and why incontinence can strike in your sleep after a few too many drinks.
Woken up with a nasty hangover and urine-soaked bedsheets, or found a suspicious wet patch in your flat? No-one wants to be faced with cleaning up an unexplained puddle of pee when they’re nursing a sore head. We find out why incontinence can strike in your sleep after a few too many drinks and what you can do about it.
We’ve all heard the stories of people weeing in airing cupboards and out of the front door, and it’s all very funny… unless it’s happening to you. Waking up to a wet bed and/or house after a night on the tiles is a real problem for some people but, depending on the circumstance, it doesn’t necessarily point to a more serious condition.
What makes you wet the bed when drunk?
The plain fact is that alcohol is a diuretic, which means it stimulates the body to produce urine, and your bladder fills more quickly than it does when drinking soft drinks. ‘Couple this with the fact that alcohol disrupts your sleep and you can see why you’re heading for an accident,’ explains McGrattan.
‘Alcohol has a sedating effect and makes you fall into a deep sleep very quickly and this part of the sleep cycle can last for longer than it normally would. If you need to pee, you might be in such a sedated state that you don’t wake up and just wet the bed. Behaviours such as sleep walking usually happen in this deep (non-REM) sleep, too, so you may wander and urinate, either in the toilet or in an inappropriate place without waking.’
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it stimulates the body to produce urine.
If you think you’re someone who sleeps very lightly after drinking, this could just as easily be a reason for accidents in your sleep, as McGrattan explains, ‘The second part of the night can be disrupted by alcohol too with multiple “micro-awakenings” when you may not even remember waking up. Confusion as to whether you’re awake or asleep can lead to you thinking it’s appropriate to pass urine when it isn’t.’
Switching drinks could reduce bedwetting
You might think booze is booze when it comes to incontinence during sleep, but it could make a difference if you change your tipple.
‘The more units of alcohol you consume then the stronger the sedating and the diuretic effects so the higher the likelihood of nocturnal urination,’ explains McGrattan. ‘If you’re drinking pints of lager or beer, then you’ll have consumed a larger volume of liquid than if you were drinking shots and the chances of you needing to empty your bladder are bigger,’
Osman agrees, pointing out that ‘Drinking beverages that include caffeine such as energy drinks will also increase the risk, as caffeine is also a diuretic and bladder irritant.’
Is booze-induced incontinence preventable?
As it’s an involuntary action, there’s very little you can do to stop peeing in your sleep from happening, but cutting down on the amount of alcohol you consume should at least help. Osman advises:
✔️ Avoid drinking to the point of blacking out.
✔️ Allow good time between your last drink and bed time and make sure to pass urine just before bedtime to make sure the bladder is as empty as possible when you fall asleep.
✔️ Set an alarm to wake you up to pass urine can also be helpful.
Is drunken bedwetting a man thing?
Osman says it’s not proven that wetting during sleep is more common in men or women, ‘It is actually uncommon in adults, affecting up 0.5 to 2 per cent of the population. In general it is as common in men as it is women, and for most of these individuals there is a background of bedwetting in childhood and the problem then continues into adult life. Isolated bedwetting during sleep that begins in adulthood is rare, occurring in 0.02 per cent of the population.’
Isolated bedwetting during sleep that begins in adulthood is rare, occurring in 0.02 per cent of the population.
But, as McGrattan points out, ‘It’s hard to confidently get a clear idea of how common this is because most people aren’t keen to admit they’ve wet the bed or urinated in their cupboard.’ In her experience, ‘It seems to be fairly common and more so in men than women. Whether this is to do with alcohol intake or the fact that women usually sit down to wee, so are less likely to urinate in an inappropriate place, is hard to say.’
When to worry about bedwetting
Could drunk (or sober) bedwetting be more than just an embarrassing problem? According to Osman, there are a number of health conditions that incontinence can point to:
- Prostate problems
Bedwetting in older men can also be a sign of retention of urine due to prostate enlargement. If left untreated this condition can lead to back pressure on the kidneys and kidney failure.
Overproduction of urine during the night time due to hormonal problems (eg diabetes) can also lead to bedwetting during sleep.
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
In some people urine overproduction is related to obstruction in the airways, termed obstructive sleep apnoea, which also causes snoring and disturbed sleep.
So even if you’re pretty sure it’s an alcohol thing, it’s always a good idea to visit your GP if you’re experiencing bedwetting/sleep incontinence, just to rule out these other possible causes.
Night time incontinence and alcoholism
Due to the large volume of alcohol that an addict consumes, bedwetting is something that is common in this population, but on its own, it’s not necessarily an indicator that you are an alcoholic.
‘Many of the people who experience this aren’t alcoholics, they’ve just had too much to drink on one occasion or have had a particularly disturbed sleep cycle with a full bladder and become temporarily confused,’ explains Dr McGrattan.
Binge drinking is harmful, it’s better to spread the units through the week and have a couple of alcohol free days too.
However, any actions that you don’t remember or can’t control while you’re under the influence of alcohol can be very disconcerting and, if it happens regularly, it might lead you to consider whether you have a problem. In this case it’s definitely worth looking at your alcohol intake and habits.
‘It’s certainly a warning sign that you need to cut down your alcohol intake,’ says Dr McGrattan. ‘The guidelines for safe limits of alcohol are 14 units per week for men and women and it’s important that this isn’t drunk all in one go. Binge drinking is harmful, it’s better to spread the units through the week and have a couple of alcohol free days too.’
Osman agrees that it’s important to be in control of your intake, ‘An isolated episode of bed wetting is unlikely to mean you are an alcoholic but repeated episodes related to drinking excessively may mean it is time to consider reducing your alcohol intake and if necessary seek professional advice and help to do this.’
Help and support with alcohol abuse
If you are looking for guidance on sensible drinking, cutting down or giving up alcohol, there are a number of organisations that can help you. For additional help and support try one of the following resources: