November 1, 2023

Is It Bad To Sleep in a Bra?

Head to bed in a bra to reduce breast pain, nipple irritation and stretch marks

woman sleeping

Sleep is all about comfort. The bedroom temperature, the feel of your sheets and what you wear to bed all contribute to your sleep experience.

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But when most people think about wearing a bra, “comfort” is not the first thing that comes to mind — it may not even make the Top 10. So, why would someone consider sleeping in a bra?

Breast surgical oncologist Margaret Thompson, MD, explains the upsides and downsides of wearing a bra while you snooze.

Should you sleep in a bra?

Several factors may affect your decision to wear a bra to bed, but Dr. Thompson emphasizes that the risk of breast cancer is not one of them.

“There’s no evidence that wearing a bra — or not wearing a bra — while sleeping increases your risk for breast cancer,” she states. “It really comes down to comfort and personal preference.”

But there are other health issues to consider. Dr. Thompson lays out the pros and cons of sleeping in a bra:

Pros: Why sleeping in a bra might be good for you

There are some benefits to sleeping in a bra, especially if you’re recovering from surgery or breastfeeding (chestfeeding). Dr. Thompson lists six potential benefits of wearing a bra while you sleep:

1. Lessens breast pain

According to the Sleep Foundation, 1 in 3 people with breast pain (mastalgia) find that it interferes with sleep. Having the support of a bra may help.

In fact, up to 70% of women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) in the United States experience breast pain at some point. Common causes of breast pain include:

  • Hormonal changes, which often occur as part of your menstrual cycle.
  • Locally advanced breast cancer, including inflammatory breast cancer, which accounts for 5% of all breast cancers.
  • Lactation (producing milk), which may cause breasts to ache.
  • Large breasts, which may strain breast ligaments and tissue.
  • Recent surgery related to your heart or breasts.
  • Underwire, especially if the bra is too tight.

“When somebody reports breast pain, one of the first things we ask is whether they wear an underwire bra,” says Dr. Thompson. “It can dig into your skin or breast tissue, leaving you sore and tender.”

But whether your tender breasts result from hormones or underwire — or you’re not sure what’s causing your breast pain — a soft sleep bra can keep your breasts from moving around and causing discomfort while you sleep.

2. Protects lactating breasts

Lactation can cause significant changes to your breasts. And let’s face it — your mammary glands don’t care if you’re trying to get some rest. Swollen or full breasts can be painful, especially as you move during sleep or change positions. Wearing a supportive bra while sleeping:

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  • Holds nursing pads in place.
  • Keeps nipples clean and free from bacteria.
  • Reduces nipple chafing.
  • Supports the structure of your breasts.

Make sure your sleep bra is supportive but not too tight. Wearing a bra that’s too tight while breastfeeding can reduce your milk production and possibly lead to clogged milk ducts and mastitis — inflammation of the breast tissue.

3. Prevents fungal infections

Everyone loves to be warm and cozy in bed. But do you know what else loves a warm environment? Fungal infections.

“There’s a lot of skin-on-skin contact, especially underneath the breast,” notes Dr. Thompson. “When you’ve got that contact, particularly when you’re covered with blankets and possibly sweating, it’s the perfect environment for fungal or yeast infections.”

Wearing a bra to bed helps absorb moisture beneath your breasts and reduce friction. Dr. Thompson adds that even a camisole with a built-in shelf bra should do the trick.

4. Reduces nipple irritation

Friction is a common reason for nipple pain — ask any avid runner. While you may not be running a marathon as you sleep, your nipples can get sore by rubbing against:

  • Tight shirts, especially if they’re textured or have a graphic design that can be felt inside the shirt.
  • Fabric of your pajama top or sheets (if you prefer to sleep naked).
  • Sleep bra that’s too loose and moves around.

“Some people wake up with sensitive or painful nipples and no obvious explanation,” says Dr. Thompson. “But you need to think about what’s touching your nipples while you sleep.”

She recommends wearing a fitted, but not tight, sleep bra constructed out of silky material.

5. Helps with recovery after surgery

It’s important to keep your breasts compressed after certain surgeries. Restricting their movement after cardiac surgery protects stitches and incisions. After any type of breast surgery (including breast reduction surgery), compression can help:

  • Decrease fluid collection.
  • Minimize pain.
  • Hold gauze and drains in place.

“Most cardiac and breast surgeons want patients to wear a bra for some time after surgery, even while sleeping,” emphasizes Dr. Thompson. “Always follow your surgeon’s advice.”

6. Diminishes stretch marks

Stretch marks happen when your skin expands or shrinks quickly. When those sudden changes occur, your skin’s collagen and elastin (skin’s support system) may break. As your skin heals, those breaks can scar and become stretch marks.

Stretch marks on breasts are common — especially if your breasts change size during pregnancy. Bras support your skin’s structure, which helps prevent stretch marks.

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“There’s no proof that wearing a bra during the day or at night will decrease breast sagginess,” Dr. Thompson says. “But it may help to decrease stretch marks.”

Cons: Why it’s bad to sleep with a bra on

Looking for a reason to sleep without strapping on a bra? Dr. Thompson points out a few potential disadvantages of sleeping in a bra:

1. Causes skin irritation and infection

A sleep bra can protect your skin from irritation and infection. But it can also lead to those issues if your sleep bra is:

  • Dirty and possibly full of bacteria.
  • Tight or contains underwire, which can cause ridges in your skin and chafing.
  • Too big, causing it to rub against your breasts and nipples.

“Whenever there’s skin irritation, it causes tiny breaks in the skin’s surface,” explains Dr. Thompson. “If your bra is dirty, bacteria can enter through a break in your skin and lead to infection.”

2. Restricts circulation

Wearing a bra can feel restricting at any time of day. But wearing a poorly fitted bra that’s too snug or has wire may keep you from breathing easy while you sleep.

“Bras that are too tight or contain underwire may cause you to wake up with some discomfort,” reiterates Dr. Thompson. “Those bras can decrease some of your circulation for the entire time you’ve been sleeping. So, be careful when choosing your sleep bra.”

Tips for wearing a bra to bed

If you decide to sleep in a bra, choose one that’s comfortable and fits well — not too tight, not too loose. Purchase new bras whenever your breast size changes. Measure yourself to determine your bra size or ask the fitter at your lingerie store for help finding the right size.

For the best experience with your sleep bra, Dr. Thompson recommends:

  • Choose a gentle fabric. Avoid lace or scratchy fabrics that may be rough on your nipples. Choose a natural material like cotton or something silky and soft.
  • Consider a shelf bra. Some camisoles and tank tops have a built-in shelf bra that may help you feel supported while sleeping.
  • Skip the underwire. Underwire can restrict circulation and cause pain while you sleep.
  • Wear a clean bra. Don’t wear a bra you’ve worn all day, and wash your sleep bras regularly — after every two or three wears.

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