Myth Busting: Don’t drink before Bedtime?

In my dealings with all that diaper business and thus getting to know other people that are incontinent or wear padding for other reasons I’m always surprised how some urban myths just don’t seem to go away. One of those is to not drink too much before going to bed. Let’s review a view things to get a clearer picture about the subject.

Strictly speaking for healthy adults, this advise is pretty much nonsense. If your kidneys work, your bladder will fill regularly every three to five hours even if you do not drink a single drop. They are part of your body’s filtration system and detoxify your blood and this is a continuous process whether you want it or not. Ultimately there’s a reason why many people have to get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom, not just elderly men. One must also not forget that you still sweat during sleep and especially at times like these, when it’s the hottest days and nights of the year in Germany, you need that liquid because you lose liters and liters of it just from transpiring.

Things of course get a bit different when you have issues in your renal tract like the prostate issues of aforementioned old men. Similarly there is any number of other impairments like slight chronic inflammations or simply a hyper-sensitive bladder, many of which do not necessarily require surveillance and treatment. In such cases not provoking things further by drinking too much may be sane advise, but you still have to weigh the consequences. Reducing the cleansing effect of e.g. washing out inflammatory substances can have just the opposite effect.

This particular point would also be true, if you need to take medication. Let’s not be under any illusion – even simple analgesics have byproducts or only part of them is absorbed, while the rest needs to be flushed out. The more medication you take, the more critical having enough fluids in your body may become. This is even more true when you take stuff that is specifically aimed at dealing with issues in your kidneys, of course. Definitely adhere to your doctor’s orders here! If, like me, you need to ingest corticoids, your kidneys will also be hyper-stimulated, anyway, so there is little choice in the matter, even more so since I already always had a quite active bladder even before.

A special case naturally are children. For simple anatomical reasons like a smaller bladder and overall less developed control not letting them drink too much late in the evening can help, but at the same time not letting them drink enough can drive them out of bed as well and let them bother you in the middle of the night. It also stands to note that by not letting your kids drink enough you may in fact further things like bedwetting because it interferes with sleep phases and they don’t learn to control their reflexes. Your little one may then end up having a full bladder during his dream phases and leak, whereas if he drank too much he’d simply pop out of his room to go to the toilet while mom and dad are watching TV and then find his own rhythm.

One of the main reasons why I consider not drinking anything before bed false advise when handed out in such a generic manner even by urologists (who should know better) is the fact that it also depends a lot on what you drink and how it interacts with your daily diet. A quick rundown is as follows:

  • Plain water will not have much effect beyond simply “running through”. In fact you will simply go more often to the bathroom before you actually even fall asleep. That’s why it’s not necessarily a good strategy to stay “moisturised” during the night and you may even wake up with a dry mouth.
  • Salty dinners and late snacks will have a similar effect and accelerate this even further. More than anything else your body will try to retain the ion balance in your body fluids and thus try to get rid of too much salt. So stay away from those potato chips (which is of course also helpful, given how much fat and calories they have)!
  • Alcohol will also dry out your body when it’s being processed. In addition of course you have potential other sideeffects like headaches. You can compensate those by additional drinking, but of course since you also lose some control, this could be a dangerous combination. Therefore the closer you get to bedtime, the less alcohol should be consumed.
  • Beer (and to some degree wine) on the other hand also contain isotonic minerals, sugars and even proteines and enzymes that are actually good for your health. That’s why in small doses they can be considered a valid option for regulating your liquids.
  • Caffeine has dehydrating effects as well. Having a coffee, tea or energy drink late in the evening may help to counter some of the effects of alcohol and keep you alert, but it may not be the best of ideas when you want to get sleep quickly.
  • Sugar in drinks will delay bladder activity because your body will first extract and metabolize the carbon hydrates. This can be useful to control the timing when you need to take a pee like for instance having a glass of orange juice in combination with just water.
  • Milk does essentially not count since your body will be busy much longer processing the proteins and lactose than actually drawing out the liquids. So there’s nothing wrong with having that glass of warm milk to help dose off.

As you can see in that list, the devil is all in the details and how you are used to some of that plus how it interacts with your food, your medication, the weather and your overall condition. I for instance have days where I’m leaking all the time even if I drink very little, but on other days I can drink a full liter of water in a short time and don’t need to pee once. Overall though, there is no harm in having that glass of water or juice before bed. The facts are clear enough and there’s no reason to hang on to old nanny tales.

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