Why Use a Travel Pillow
Nothing beats sleeping at home in your own bed, but a travel pillow can provide comfort and support when you’re sleeping on the go. They’re most commonly used in cars and on airplanes, but frequent travelers keep them on hand for trains, buses, other forms of public transportation, and even campsites.
Most adults know that sleep is essential to health, and when you’re faced with a red-eye flight, a cross-country road trip, or overseas travel, your ability to rest is seriously impacted. Most seats, whether on airplanes or in vehicles, don’t recline fully and are cramped, making sleeping difficult. Combining your seating situation with the realities of jet lag, time changes, and dehydration is a recipe for losing sleep, getting sick, and arriving at your destination in less-than-stellar health.
Whether you opt for a simple, affordable u-shaped travel pillow or a pricier version with special features, having a travel pillow on hand can make the difference between serious discomfort and a night’s sleep you can function relatively well on.
Types of Travel Pillows
Today, travel pillows come in all shapes and sizes. Read on to learn about the types available.
U-shaped travel pillows are the most well-known, and they’re the kind you’re most likely to see in airports and brick-and-mortar stores. The simple design wraps around your neck, often with an adjustable drawstring or buckle closure. However, some individuals find that u-shaped pillows don’t provide enough neck support, depending on the loft.
J-shaped travel pillows are less common and new to the market, and they provide better chin support by propping the chin up. Hourglass travel pillows are the most versatile shape as they can be used for your neck, back, knees, and legs. Rectangular travel pillows are also available, and they look similar to a pillow you’d use in your bed at home. If your neck supports itself well while sleeping, a rectangular travel pillow could work for you.
Inflatable vs. Non-Inflatable Travel Pillows
Whether inflatable or non-inflatable travel pillows are more effective is up in the air. The best travel pillow for you will depend on your preferences and a few other factors, like space and loft needs.
Non-inflatable pillows tend to be made with memory foam, though latex and other materials have crept their way into the market. Many argue that memory foam and other hard materials are more comfortable to lay on than the air that fills inflatable travel pillows.
The tradeoff, however, is size and portability. Inflatable pillows can be rolled, folded, and easily slipped into a carry-on bag, purse, or even your pocket. Non-inflatable pillows take up more space, but they are more widely available in need-specific designs and shapes, like j-shapes and hourglass shapes.
Considerations for Travel Pillows
If you’re reading this guide, we doubt you’re the type to realize you’ll be sleeping on a flight and grab a travel pillow at the closest airport shop. The travel pillow market is expanding and diversifying, so here’s a brief list of considerations to take into account when you’re looking for the best travel pillow this year.
- Sleeping Position: Pressure points tend to make themselves known when we sleep in an upright position, so understanding how your neck, head, and shoulders react when you’re attempting to sleep without reclining fully is key. Your neck will naturally tilt forward as you drift off. Find a pillow that allows you to lean your head and neck back further to avoid this risk when you fall asleep.
- Loft: Just like normal pillows, travel pillows vary in the loft. Some sleepers require more inches of loft to feel supported, as the higher loft allows you to keep your neck upright. An inflatable pillow is advantageous if you like to adjust pillow loft or if the travel pillow will be used by multiple sleepers.
- Price: Travel pillows tend to range from $10 to $50, with inflatable travel pillows coming in on the lower side of that spectrum.
- Shape: With square, u-shaped, j-shaped, rectangle, hourglass, and more models available, you’ll have options with regard to shape. Most travelers will be satisfied with a classic u-shaped travel pillow, but if you want to explore other shapes, here’s what to take into consideration. If you sleep on your side, you may not do well with a u-shaped, which works best for those who lean their heads directly back to rest. If you travel frequently by train or car or have aches in your knees, legs, and lower back, hourglass or j-shaped pillows, which are adjustable and can work for different areas of the body, could work well.
Tips for Sleeping While Traveling
Keeping sleep disruption to a minimum when traveling can make the difference between an enjoyable time at your destination and a cranky, sleep-deprived one. Our bodies have an optimal sleep window, called the circadian window, and travel can wreak havoc on it. Here’s how to sleep while you travel:
- Prepare for travel by moving your bedtime slightly earlier than normal. Planning ahead can help adjust the transition into a new time zone and make it easier to sleep with your travel pillow on the go
- Adjust your sleep schedule as soon as you begin to travel. For example, if you’re flying to Europe from the United States, try not to drift off if you know it’s morning at the destination. If you happen to be traveling when it’s the middle of the night at your destination, then you should try to catch some zzzs.
- Consider melatonin and magnesium supplements, which can aid in the body’s natural production of melatonin to help lull you off to sleep. Melatonin is available in non-prescription sleep aid doses of up to 10 milligrams.
- Choose your airplane and car seat wisely. Try to get a window seat on the plane or in the car, if possible, so that you can lean on the edge and won’t be disturbed by other travelers waking to use the restroom or move about. You’ll also have control over the window shade.
- Try calming music to relax if you have a streaming subscription of Apple Music. Pre-made sleep playlists are readily available, with instrumental piano, harp, and other calming sounds to help you reach REM sleep.
Sleeping while traveling can be tough. Your routine is disrupted, the distractions are endless, and your body’s clock is usually thrown for a loop. If a travel pillow can, even in a small way, make your journey more comfortable and restful, it’s worth the investment. Use our guide above to help you decide which of 2019’s best travel pillows will work for your lifestyle, budget, and sleeping style, and you’ll be well on your way to a more pleasant travel experience, wherever you’re headed.