Peeing at Night? What Frequent Urination Says About Your Health

Waking up to pee once every night is normal. Anything more than that may be nocturia.

Nocturia basics

Waking up once during the night to pee isn’t that uncommon for most people, and generally it’s nothing to be concerned about.

However, if you are getting up more often than usual it could be nocturia, or frequent nighttime urination, which could have serious implications for your longterm health.

Nocturia is not a disease or condition, notes Kirsty M. Borawski, MD, associate professor of urology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. It’s a symptom, and could be due to anything from drinking too much fluid, uncontrolled diabetes, sleep apnea, and more.

About a third of adults have nocturia, which becomes more prevalent as people age.

What is nocturia?

For these nighttime episodes to be considered nocturia, they have to come in between periods of sleep. So that first morning stream does not count.

In early adulthood, frequent nighttime urination tends to affect women more often than men, while this is reversed in later life, says Dr. Borawski.

Nocturia is not the same as nocturia polyuria, which means you produce too much urine at night, says Dr. Borawski.

Typically, the body produces less urine at night, so people can sleep six to eight hours (the recommended amount) without waking.

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What can happen if you have nocturia

Interrupted sleep, in general, is not good for your health, and chronic nocturia is no exception. Poor sleep can lead to daytime fatigue and changes in alertness and mood.

“Nighttime urination is also linked to increases in mortality, especially among elderly people,” says Erin L. Ohmann, MD, an attending urologist at Montefiore Health System and assistant professor of urology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

If you’re elderly, making that trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, especially if the area is poorly lit or obstructed, can lead to falls or fractures, says Dr. Ohmann.

Overall, nocturnal trips to the toilet have been linked with lower quality of life.

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Here are the causes of nocturia.

Adult man walking into bathroom at nighteugenekeebler/Getty Images

Nocturia causes

1. Drinking too much fluid

This seemingly harmless habit is probably the most common cause of excessive urination at night, says Dr. Ohmann—especially if you’re imbibing anything containing caffeine or alcohol within two to three hours of bedtime.

Both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics that make your kidney produce more urine in a rapid time frame, explains Dr. Ohmann.

There’s an easy fix here: Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol before bedtime and, in general, curtail your intake of fluids within four to six hours of retiring. You should also visit the bathroom last thing before you go to bed.

As people age, bladders don’t have as much capacity, so even drinking what you always have may result in more trips to the bathroom when you’re older. Just be careful not to limit your fluids so much as to risk dehydration.

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2. Medications

Doctors prescribe diuretics or “water pills” such as chlorothiazide (Diuril) and spironolactone (Aldactone), for high blood pressure. These drugs help the kidneys get rid of excess fluid and salt. The benefit is that this lowers the amount of blood circulating, easing the burden on your heart. The down side is that this will typically an urge to pee, which may wake you up at night.

“If you take this close to bedtime, you will increase your risk for nocturia,” says Dr. Borawski.

If you’re peeing too much at night, you may be taking your medication at the wrong time. Be sure to consult with your doctor before making any changes.

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3. Pregnancy

Pregnancy increases the urge to urinate both during the day as well as at night. This is due to hormonal changes and the basic mechanics of carrying more weight: The growing fetus puts ever more pressure on your bladder.

This is normal, but if you have any other symptoms like burning and pain which could be due to a urinary tract infection, get medical help.

Childbirth can also contribute to nocturia, as can menopause. As women get older, they produce less antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which, in younger years, cuts down nighttime urges to empty.

“As people age, nocturia is caused by excessive urine production at night,” explains Dr. Borawski. “You should make less than a third of your 24-hour urine volume at night.”

Treatment with desmopressin, a synthetic version of the ADH, is possible.

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4. Enlarged prostate

An enlarged prostate, known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH, is one of the most common conditions affecting older men.

The prostate is a gland located next to and around the bladder and urethra; it produces the fluid found in semen. An enlarged prostate can obstruct the urinary pathway, making it difficult to empty the bladder completely, explains Dr. Ohmann.

Peeing a lot, especially at night, is a hallmark symptom of BPH.

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5. Heart failure and hypertension

Nocturia is a common symptom of heart failure, a chronic condition in which the heart enlarges and has difficulty pumping enough blood. Because the heart doesn’t beat as strongly, salt and fluid build up in your body during the day. When you lie down at night, it retreats into the blood. The bladder then works overtime to get rid of the excess fluid.

Several studies have also linked nighttime trips to the toilet with hypertension. In fact, studies have shown that the worse the nocturia, the higher the blood pressure.

Remember that diuretics are one of the most common treatments for hypertension and heart failure. These drugs may also be causing you to pee more at night.

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6. Diabetes

Undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes (type 1 and type 2), is linked with higher urination rates overall, including at night.

“High blood sugar content leads to a diuretic effect,” explains Dr. Ohmann. In other words, all that excess glucose gets flushed out in the urine.

Obesity, a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, links to both daytime and nighttime peeing.

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7. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea is when you briefly but repeatedly stop breathing at night. Nocturia is so common in people with sleep apnea that it’s one of the symptoms doctors look for when diagnosing the condition.

“When someone is not breathing well at night, their body senses that the volume of fluid is overloaded so it sends hormones to tell the kidneys to make more urine,” explains Elena Campbell, MD, a urologist with Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge.

If your doctor suspects sleep apnea, they will likely send you off for a sleep study to confirm. Treating the sleep apnea (often with a CPAP machine, or a face mask worn at night that delivers a stream of air in the nose) will also resolve the urination issue.

Snoring, a common symptom of sleep apnea, has also been linked with nocturia.

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8. Swelling in your legs and feet

Nocturia can be a sign of daytime fluid retention in your legs and feet, which is known as edema.

“If someone has a lot of fluid on their legs during the day, when they put their legs up at nighttime, the fluid goes back into [blood] circulation, so your body produces more urine in the nighttime,” explains Dr. Campbell. “We recommend elevating your feet above the level of the heart in the [day] to allow some of that urine to pass in the early evening rather than during the night.”

Compression stockings may also help. The swelling itself could be due to something as simple as standing on your feet all day or a more serious medical condition like heart failure.

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9. Chronic kidney disease

Your kidneys normally concentrate urine at night in response to antidiuretic hormone. If you have kidney problems, the kidneys lose some of their ability to concentrate their urine at night, leading to increased urine production, says Dr. Borawski.

Normally, the kidneys filter out all the electrolytes and other elements the body does not need, says Ali Dabaja, MD, a urologist with Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

“The kidneys are designed to prevent us from losing water,” Dr. Dabaja explains. This helps maintain fluid balance in the body. But any time the kidneys notice that there’s extra fluid on board, it will be excreted, Dr. Dabaja adds.

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10. Overactive bladder

Overactive bladder is not so much a disease as it is a syndrome, meaning it involves a combination of symptoms, one of which is peeing a lot.

“It’s characterized to be a combination of frequent urination, the urge to get to a bathroom right away and incontinence, meaning you can’t make it to the bathroom in time,” explains Dr. Campbell.

One cause may be involuntary muscle contractions, but the reasons aren’t always clear.

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Treating nocturia

The best treatment for nocturia is to do identify and treat any underlying causes.

“It’s such a common problem and so many factors that can be contributing factor, addressing the cause is most beneficial,” says Dr. Ohmann.

Many of the reasons for nocturia are interrelated (for example, sleep apnea, diabetes, and hypertension). And about half of patients report having at least three conditions contributing to their nighttime excursions.

The first choice is behavioral changes like drinking less caffeine and alcohol before bed, elevating your feet, and making sure you’re taking diuretics at the appropriate time.

Behavioral therapy, including pelvic floor muscle exercises, is also an option.

Simple sleep “hygiene” measures may be all you need. This includes keeping a regular sleep schedule and keeping your bedroom dark at a comfortable temperature.

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When to see a doctor about nocturia

If you suspect nocturia is due to anything other than drinking too much, especially if it’s robbing you of sleep, you should see a doctor.

It’s also time to get medical help if you see blood in your urine, if you have any abrupt changes in your symptoms or if you think you might have an infection (you’d probably also be experiencing burning when you urinate), says Dr. Borawski.

“There are many, many causes of nocturia,” adds Dr. Ohmann. “Seeing a provider can help with quality of life and prevent complications.”

Sources

Amanda Gardner
Amanda Gardner is a freelance health reporter whose stories have appeared in cnn.com, health.com, cnn.com, WebMD, HealthDay, Self Magazine, the New York Daily News, Teachers & Writers Magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, AmeriQuests (Vanderbilt University) and others. In 2009, she served as writer-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. She is also a community artist and recipient or partner in five National Endowment for the Arts grants.