Sometimes, what seems to be the obvious answer isn’t. Or at least it isn’t the complete answer. After decades of doctors telling their middle-aged patients to simply drink less in order to avoid those midnight trips to the bathroom, it turns out that a better answer might be: cut down on your salt intake.
Researchers from Nagasaki University in Japan, who did a study of more than 300 adults, discovered that lowering the amount of salt in the diets of 200 of the participants dramatically reduced their number of middle-of-the-night bathroom calls. Among those who increased their salt intake, the number of those midnight loo visits increased.
The results of the study were presented at the recent European Society of Urology Congress in London.
"This work holds out the possibility that a simple dietary modification might significantly improve the quality of life for many people," study author Matsuo Tomohiro told the BBC.
Frequent urination during the night (a medical condition known as nocturia) is an inconvenient fact of life for millions of people over 60. It’s caused by a number of factors: in older men, an enlarged prostate presses on the bladder, and in post-menopausal women, hormonal changes can cause the body to produce more urine. Some blood pressure medications can also play a role.
Whatever the reason, the sleep disruptions caused by multiple awakenings during the night can have serious health consequences, starting with simple stress and irritability.
Up to now, doctors have assumed that the way to deal with nocturia was to drink less before bedtime, said Marcus Drake, a nocturia expert at the University of Bristol.
"Here we have a useful study showing how we need to consider all influences to get the best chance of improving the symptom," he said.