A Boy Who Wanted to Keep His Bed Dry

When I met fourteen-year-old Mark he told me, “I’ve had troubles with bed wetting for my entire life.” 

“It sounds to me that your difficulty actually may lie in learning how to keep your bed dry,” I suggested.  I did this because teaching patients how to focus on their goal rather than on their problem is therapeutic.

“Right,” he said, catching on quickly.  “Sometimes, I’m dry for a few days, but then my sleep schedule gets messed up and I have trouble again.”

“How does your sleep schedule get messed up?”

“Like when I switch from being on vacation to going back to school or if I have to wake up early for sports.”

Mark told me that during the previous few months he had been dry on average twice a week.

“So your body already knows how to be dry at night, sometimes,” I observed.  “You just have to teach it how to be dry all of the time.”

“I get it,” he said.

Mark had been evaluated at the Children’s Hospital Enuresis (bed wetting) Program when he was 11-years-old.  At that time he was found to have normal bladder, and his urine was normal.  It was thought that he might be constipated, which can cause enuresis because the stool can put pressure on the bladder.  He was told he should drink more water.  However, at that time he did not want to keep track of his enuresis, nor did he want to take a laxative to treat his constipation.

“Why didn’t you want to fix the problem when you were 11?”

“I didn’t care about it.  It wasn’t important enough to me, and I didn’t want to put any effort into it.  I’m pretty lazy, and I don’t like responsibility.”

When he was 13-years-old, his mother urged Mark to see a therapist for his condition.  He said the therapist gave him a meditation tape, but he did not want to use it because it did not work fast enough.   A bed-alarm that went off whenever the bed was wet did not awaken him.  It did awaken his mother, who then had to wake him up.  Withholding liquids at bedtime helped a little.  He did biofeedback for eight sessions at the beginning of the year.

“How did the biofeedback work?”

“They put little stickies on my head and I got to watch a movie.  When my brain was quiet, the movie kept playing.  When my brain became too active, the movie stopped.”

“Did the biofeedback help?”

“Not really.”

His mother offered to reward Mark for every dry night, which helped a little.  He was asked to change his own sheets and wash them and his wet night clothes on his own since he was 9 years old.  Punishments for not washing his soiled sheets did not help.

“Do you drink beverages with caffeine such as Coke or hot chocolate?” I asked this question because caffeine can cause people to produce more urine.

“Not often.”

“Do you ever have trouble keeping dry in the daytime?” I asked this question in order to double check if something might be physically wrong with him that would cause his symptoms.


“Do you always use the bathroom before you go to bed?”


“So, why do you want to become dry now?”  I asked since motivation is key for success with hypnosis.

“I don’t want to have to worry about this when I go to sports camp.”  Mark explained that he would like to pursue a career in athletics, such as playing football or basketball.

We discussed that as long as Mark is motivated to help himself, I can teach him how to use hypnosis to keep his bed dry.  He said he wanted to learn how to do so.

I asked him to keep a calendar regarding the dryness of his bed.  When he was completely dry he would rate it as a “0” and when his bed was soaking wet and dripped urine on the floor he would rate it as a “10”.  By keeping a calendar, Mark would be able to keep track of his progress as sometimes when kids’ enuresis improves, they do so by allowing their beds to slowly become drier.

Mark learned how to enter a state of hypnosis by imagining that he was visiting an old house in Virginia, where his grandmother lived.  I encouraged him to tell himself each night, while he does hypnosis, that he wants to remain dry all night.

At his next visit, he reported that he was dry three quarters of the time, which represented a significant improvement.  I asked Mark to draw his concept of the brain/bladder connection.  He drew a human figure with the bladder connected to the brain with nerves, represented as a railroad track.  We discussed that during the days when the bladder was full it notified the brain that he had to go to that bathroom.

“So what happens at night when the bladder is full?”  I asked.

“It tries to let the brain know, but the brain is asleep,” replied Mark.

“And then what happens?”

“It let’s go.”

“Exactly,” I agreed.  “But there are a couple of other options that perhaps the bladder could explore.  First, he could choose to stay tight, tight, tight, all night, night, night.  Or, the bladder could talk to your awake brain.  Did you know that part of your brain is awake at night?


“Sure.  How do you think the body keeps running when you’re asleep?  The awake brain monitors it.  Also, if someone calls your name, your awake brain can wake you up.  I remember that when our babies were young, my wife breast fed them.  When they awoke in the middle of the night crying, my wife would wake up and nurse them.  Often, I just slept through this part of the night.  However, when I was on-call, many times my beeper would go off, or the telephone would ring.  When that happened, I always woke up immediately, and my wife kept on sleeping.  How did our brains figure out what to do while we were sleeping?  This shows our awake brains at work!”

“That’s cool,” he said.

“Right!  So, at night, your bladder can talk to your awake brain and tell him to wake the rest of you up and go to the bathroom.  What you need to do at night is to tell your bladder that it has a choice.  To stay tight all night, or to wake you up.”

“Got it!”

At his next visit, Mark reported that he was completely dry all week, and has remained dry since.  He told me that he became more confident in himself when he learned how to keep himself dry, and that this confidence led to an improvement in his athletic performance.

This represents yet another example of how hypnosis can help empower young people.