Adult bed wetting

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I was raped 7yrs ago and have been diagnosed wit PTSD. For the past 3yrs I have been wetting my bed almost every night. I have been to the doctor and had many tests done and they all came back normal. I know that bed wetting is common in children that have PTSD but I am 29yrs old. Could my bed wetting be caused by my PTSD?

A: Absolutely there can be a connection. I’m glad you wrote. Adult bed wetting is such a personal and embarrassing problem that many people go undiagnosed and untreated. It is far more common than you might think.

You’ve done the right thing by getting a thorough physical assessment. Since your doctors can find no physical cause, it is likely that there is a psychological connection.

People who have been violated often feel terribly vulnerable when asleep. Often sleep disorders are a consequence of trauma. One coping mechanism human beings have is the ability to detach from physical feeling when overstressed. Put this all together and you have at least one explanation for the bed wetting. You feel vulnerable when sleeping so you detach from feeling your body and then you don’t feel when your bladder is full. A full bladder eventually has to empty.

Do talk this over with your therapist. One goal of treatment is to reconnect with your physical self. Other steps you can take are to limit your intake of fluids after dinner and to make sure you use the toilet before you go to bed.

Please don’t be hard on yourself for having this symptom. The ability to detach like that is a marvelous thing. Your psyche was doing what it could to protect you from feeling the full impact of the rape. When this happens, it sometimes doesn’t know when it’s safe to stop. Therapy can help you develop confidence in your ability to take care of yourself and to feel safe in the world again. It’s likely the bed wetting will then stop.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Jan 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Adult bed wetting. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/01/01/adult-bed-wetting/