Travel Pillows: What You Need to Know to Fly Comfortably
Your bags are checked, you’ve made it through the long lines and hassle at security, and you’ve managed to pull your threadbare dignity back around your shoulders and board your flight. The hard part is over. Or is it?
Not long into your flight you are faced with the inevitable choices. You can force yourself to stay awake by reading a book, watching an in-flight movie, or rifling through the Sky Mall catalog. Or, you can fall asleep and risk the humiliation of other passengers watching you drool and snore, while your head lolls around on the seat back, possibly coming to rest on the shoulder of the burly stranger seated next to you. And then, of course, follows the inevitable stiff neck when you awake.
In a survey by SpineUniverse, an average of 79 percent of questioned subjects stated that they found airplane seats in all carriers, both discount and major, to be uncomfortable in both coach and economy sections. Back and neck pain were experienced by 55 percent of passengers. Since airlines are clearly moving in the direction of giving passengers less room and smaller seats in an effort to maximize the number of available seats per flight, comfort on flights will certainly not be improving anytime soon. And of course, sleeping upright with a body that’s meant to sleep in a prone position naturally results in problems such as one’s head lolling, nodding, or resting in a cramped, upright position in the seat corner or against a window. Adding to these risks are the detrimental effects on back and neck muscles due to travel stress, as well as carrying baggage and lifting heavy objects.
So what are our options? Studies show that a travel pillow can make a tremendous improvement in decreasing the level of discomfort experienced during flights. A neck pillow has a firmer texture than a standard pillow, and a better shape for sleeping upright. A study by the Spine Institute of North America of 128 chronic neck pain patients showed that using a supportive neck pillow helped to relieve their pain. Neck pillows are designed to support your head and neck in a much more natural position than sleeping upright alone, or with a standard pillow. A travel pillow is also designed to be smaller and more portable than a standard bed pillow.
Options in Travel Pillows
When choosing a neck pillow there are many factors to consider. Innovative new designs have taken us beyond the standard, U-shaped cervical neck pillow. Travel pillows are now available in many designs and include inflatable pillows for easy storage, memory foam pillows for firm support and even silk pillows to protect your hairstyle. The traditional U-shaped pillow has been joined by infinity shapes, J-shapes, wrap-arounds, and some that resemble cervical collars, or perhaps even a medieval ruff. In an interesting study by Travelandleisure.com, the typical categories to evaluate travel pillows such as portability, comfort, and support, were joined by a less frequently addressed and often neglected quality: Travelandleisure.com referred to this important attribute as “Public Shame Potential.” While rest and comfort are very important while traveling, many of us are willing to sacrifice comfort if it means we avoid the side-long glances and smothered chuckles of our fellow travelers.When choosing your travel pillow, you may wish to keep in mind that no matter how comfortable your pillow is, it won’t help you to sleep during your flight if you are too self-conscious to use it because it makes you look like you are strapped into a medieval torture device, are wearing padded astronaut helmet, or that you’ve recently suffered a catastrophic neck injury. Thankfully, new and innovative designs now offer simple and discreet choices, such as a wrap-around pillow that resembles a scarf but has internal hidden support for your neck and head. There are also travel pillows you can wear bandolier style across your body for a huggable pillow experience, against which you can discreetly rest your head while you snooze.
Take advantage of the many new designs and materials featured in today’s travel pillows to avoid the discomfort of trying to sleep in a tiny, cramped airline seat in an upright manner that your body was never designed to endure without assistance. Well-supported sleep, especially while traveling across time zones, can go a long way toward helping travelers avoid jet lag. Not to mention preventing a terrible pain in the neck!