It’s normal and common to wake up with a stiff or painful neck. People often assume this is due to an old mattress because the neck pain can extend to pain in other parts of the body, including arms, back, shoulders, and hips, and it could also cause numbness in the limbs and migraine headaches. Plus, the pain and stiffness could affect your sleep, which impacts your mood and ability to function normally.

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But even though you may have pain all over, the problem starts with the pillow and snowballs from there. To put it simply, the best pillow to prevent neck pain is the one that has the correct shape, size, thickness, and construction to match your body.

The Science Behind Neck pain

Pain in the neck has the potential to cause pain, stiffness, and other health concerns throughout the body, which is why preventing it is critical, and understanding where the pain comes from is the first step in doing so.

The neck is made up of muscles, tendons, cartilage, and 7 tiny bones. The bones are not connected to each other, but instead suspended in a bed a fluid, and their job is to protect the central nervous system and support the head. When parts of the neck become pinched or compressed, it causes pain and stiffness. Unfortunately, the neck is the part of the spine that is most susceptible to pinching and compression, especially when it’s laid on for several hours, so keeping it in a straight, comfortable position is key to preventing pain from occurring—this is where the right pillow comes in.

Pillows for Neck Pain— Key Considerations

Shape & Loft: Because of the natural curvature of the anatomy around the head, neck, and shoulders, a pillow that is the correct shape and size is best for preventing pain. Ideally, a rounded pillow, which is also called a contoured, cervical, or orthopedic pillow, would give support in all of the right places. But, many pillows designed to prevent neck pain have the traditional, even-surfaced shape that can work effectively for the right people.

Since the shape and size of everyone’s body varies, some people may need more loft in their pillow, or more support in their pillow. Generally, low loft refers to pillows that are less than 3 inches thick, medium loft is between 3 and 5 inches thick, and high loft is more than 5 inches thick. For some, a pillow that is over stuffed or too firm could cause pain, but for others, it could perfectly address the curvature of their neck. Either way, it’s best to find a pillow that will keep your neck elevated and supported enough to stay in line with your spine. Usually this means finding a pillow that is thicker under your neck, and thinner under you head.

Composition: Pillows for neck pain are made from a variety of materials including feathers, memory foam or shredded memory foam, water, polyester, latex, down or down alternative, wool, cotton, bamboo, or buckwheat. The most recommended materials, however, are feather, memory foam or shredded memory foam, and water, and if you find a pillow that allows you to adjust the amount of fill, that’s even better.

Each of the recommended materials come with their advantages and disadvantages. Feather pillows provide soft comfort for the head but may not be as supportive in the neck area. Memory foam does a good job of supporting the neck, but it could be too stiff and cause pain. The shredded version of memory foam could alleviate some of the concerns of regular memory foam because it is better able to adapt to the shape of your body, and some pillows allow you to add or take away shredded pieces. Water-filled pillows are heavy but allow you to adjust the thickness by adding and taking away water, and they adapt well to any shape.

Sleep Position: The position in which you sleep can influence whether or not you experience pain the next morning. Ideally, the correct pillow will minimize the effect your sleeping position has, but sleep experts recommend sleeping on your side or your back to prevent neck pain. Stomach sleeping is not recommended because it causes your spine to arch in an unnatural way and causes strain on the neck. Another note about sleep position: if you intended to buy a pillow with unique contours, consider the fact that the specialized shape may not fit every sleep position you move through during the night.

What Are the Top Six Pillows for Neck Pain?

Here is a summary of the top six pillows for neck pain, each offering a unique combination of desirable features. All of these products are highly rated, and sleep tested.

Coop Home Goods Original Pillow

The Coop Home Good Original Pillow has all of the qualities of an ideal pillow to prevent neck pain. It is filled with shredded Visco elastic memory foam that is fully adjustable through a convenient side zipper. The cover is made with a bamboo-derived viscose rayon and polyester blend and is designed to stay cool. All of the materials used to build this pillow are CertiPUR certified, meaning they are free from ozone-depleting chemicals and harmful toxins. Plus, it is hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant. This pillow is machine washable, available in both king and queen sizes, and comes with a 5-year warranty and 100-night, money-back trial.

Pros:

  • Comes with an extra bag of fill
  • Will not result in neck pain
  • Conforms to any sleep position
  • Fully adjustable
  • Stays cool all night

Cons:

  • Shredded memory foam may seem lumpy

Sleep Innovations Memory Foam Contour Pillow

The Sleep Innovations Memory Foam Contour Pillow has a unique design that is lower under the head and higher under the neck to give appropriate support to each. One side of the pillow is higher than the other, so you are free to choose which side fits you better. The memory foam fill adapts to the natural curvature of your neck, shoulders, and head to provide comfort and prevent neck pain. It comes equipped with a cotton, zipper cover that allows you to keep the pillow clean. This pillow is available in queen, standard, and travel sizes. The travel size is simply a shorter version of the bed pillow, so you won’t experience pain on the go. Sleep Innovations offers a 5-year limited warranty with the purchase of this pillow.

Pros:

  • Will not result in neck pain
  • Provides a great deal of neck support
  • Will not go flat

Cons:

  • Not adjustable
  • Contoured sides may be too thick for some

Beckham Luxury Linens Hotel Collection Gel Pillow

The Beckham Luxury Linens Hotel Collection Gel Pillow is a unique, gel-filled fiber pillow that provides ultimate comfort. It is shaped like a traditional, even-surfaced pillow, and it has a 100% cotton cover. This pillow is dust mite, mold, and mildew resistant, plus it is hypoallergenic and free from harmful chemicals. It is also fade and stain resistant and machine washable. This pillow has “no-shift” construction, meaning the filling will never become bunched up and stuck together. Beckham Luxury Linens offers a 30-day, money-back guarantee with the purchase of the gel pillow.

Pros:

  • Perfect balance of softness and support
  • Will not result in neck pain
  • Stays cool all night
  • Holds its shape well

Cons:

  • May be overstuffed/too thick for some
  • Not adjustable

Snuggle-Pedic Ultra-Luxury Bamboo Shredded Memory Foam Pillow

The Snuggle-Pedic Ultra-Luxury Bamboo Shredded Memory Foam Pillow will never go flat, and it stays cool all night. It is filled with shredded combination memory foam, and the cover is micro-vented and made with bamboo, polyester, and Lycra. This pillow allows you to add or take away filling through its zipper cover, plus it is machine washable. The Ultra-Luxury pillow is CertiPUR certified (free from ozone depleters and harmful chemicals), hypoallergenic, and dust mite resistant. It is available in standard, queen, and king sizes, and Snuggle-Pedic offers a 120-night, no-hassle refund guarantee, as well as a 20-year warranty with the purchase of this pillow.

Pros:

  • Will not result in neck pain
  • Stays cool all night
  • Fully adjustable
  • Conforms to any sleep position

Cons:

  • Shredded memory foam may seem lumpy
  • May have a smell when first opened

Core Products Tri-Core Pillow

The Core Products Tri-Core Pillow has specialized contours that are raised on all four sides with a low center. The shape of the pillow cradles your head from all angles, and each side has a different level of loft to fit your preference and sleep position. The design is meant to correctly align the spine to prevent neck pain. Despite its unique shape, the pillow fits standard pillow cases. It is filled with resilient fiber that won’t go flat, and it has a blended cotton cover that is breathable and will stay cool all night. This pillow is available in full size, midsize, and petite, and you can choose the level of firmness; some sizes come in colors while others come in white.

Pros:

  • Will not result in neck pain
  • Stays cool all night
  • Choose your level of firmness

Cons:

  • Not adjustable
  • May lose shape sooner than expected

The Water Pillow by Mediflow

The Water Pillow by Mediflow helps alleviate and prevent neck pain through its adjustable, water-filled system. Unlike other fill materials, water smoothly adapts to the curvature of your neck, shoulders, and head without any lumpiness. It has a polyester cover with a valve that allows water to go in and come out. With the help of a funnel-like tool, it is easy to add the amount of water that fits your taste. Water should be cold or lukewarm when adding it to the pillow, and it can stay in the pillow for up to a year before it needs to be replaced. For the most comfortable experience, all air should be released from the pillow, leaving only water. This pillow is available for purchase individually or in packs of two. Mediflow offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, as well as a 1-year warranty with the purchase of this product.

Pros:

  • Clinically proven to prevent neck pain
  • Fully adjustable
  • Will not lose its shape over time

Cons:

  • Heavy when full
  • Risk of leakage
  • May be tricky to add and take away water

Pillows for Neck Pain— Final Thoughts

There are many pillows available that claim to alleviate neck pain, but only you know what your spine needs to be comfortable. Everyone’s anatomy is different, so find the pillow that has the ideal loft, support, and construction to keep your spine in line. However, there are other features you may want to look for in a pillow as well. For example, you may need a pillow that is hypoallergenic and free from any toxins or harmful chemicals. You may also want one that is easy to clean or machine washable. Plus, if you’re sensitive to temperature when you sleep, you will want a pillow that stays cool all night.

It’s important to remember that your body will need some time to adjust to a new pillow, so test drive it for a few nights before you make your final decision about it. Keep in mind that whichever pillow you choose will need to be replaced as often as once per year because all pillows naturally lose their shape and thickness over time. This is also where the price of your pillow can play a role. Many people are willing to splurge on one good pillow but replacing an expensive pillow each year could cause you to reconsider your choice. For your reference, the recommended pillows listed above range in price from $26 to $60.

With all of this advice, you should be ready to purchase your new pillow and start enjoying nights and mornings free from neck pain.

About Marissa Gvozdenovich Marissa is an English teacher and writer. She enjoys the Florida beach life with her husband and puppy.

travel pillos

Traveling almost always means sleeping in less-than-normal conditions—some may be large, comfy hotel beds, others may be economy-class, over-crowded plane seats. Either way, there’s a good chance that you’ll experience some neck or back pain on your trip, which could prevent you from doing what you set out to accomplish: live it up on vacation, win big on a business trip, or enjoy that special event.

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Luckily, there are endless travel pillows available that make even the least comfortable sleep settings comfortable.  With all of the unique and specialized designs on the travel pillow market, you are guaranteed to find one that meets all your needs and expectations.

Travel Pillows— Key Considerations

Materials: Like regular pillows, there are a variety of materials used to construct travel pillows. Most often, travel pillows are filled with memory foam or air, but sometimes you will find travel pillows filled with polyester fiber or microbeads. Each material has advantages and disadvantages.

First, air-filled travel pillows always come with the risk of leaks or punctures that could cause the pillow to flatten and become unusable, but they are also easy to compress and pack. Next, memory foam easily conforms and adapts to your body and unusual sleep positions or locations, but they can sometimes be bulky. Polyester fiber is a standard type of pillow fill, and it is very durable, easy to wash, and dries quickly. Lastly, microbeads can adapt to unusual sleep positions or locations, as well as the shape of your body, plus they are highly resistant to dust and allergens.  

Usually, the outside material on travel pillows is either velour, a velvet-like fabric, nylon, or spandex. The velour and velvet-like fabrics are more comfortable and of a higher quality. Nylon and spandex will work just fine and they are less expensive, but they are generally lower in quality. When deciding which filling and outer fabrics you would prefer, it’s a good idea to find a combination of materials that are machine washable.

Design: In the past, all travel pillows had the traditional, u-shaped design, but now there are numerous specialized and unique designs to fit any sleep situation and body. Of course, there are still a multitude of u-shaped travel pillows out there, but you will also see travel pillows that fit like a scarf, fit around the whole body, or are shaped like a regular bed pillow.

Another design element to consider is how the pillow will stay in place. Many u-shaped travel pillows now have some way to fasten the two ends together near you chin, and usually this is done with a drawstring mechanism. However, you may find some designs that loosely wrap around the neck to keep it in place, or the pillow is malleable to bend and adjust how you see fit. But, no matter what shape or design you choose, the best is the one that is most in line with your preferences.

Size: An unavoidable part of traveling is packing, and it always seems as if there’s never enough space to fit everything you need. Plus, no one needs another item to carry, and packing light is even more critical now that we are in the era of paying outrageous fees for luggage on many airlines. So, it may seem like leaving the bulky pillow behind is the smartest choice, but it doesn’t have to be. The travel pillow industry has addressed this problem by making their pillows easier to pack. For example, air-filled travel pillows can take up little to no space when deflated. Similarly, the memory foam travel pillows are now built to be compressed to a fraction of their normal size and can fit into a neat carrying case.

One last point to consider about the size of your pillow is how much space it will take up when using it. Oftentimes, public forms of transportation allow for little room between you and your neighbor, so you may want to find a travel pillow that doesn’t intrude on their space, too.

Comfort: Comfort is most likely the number 1 reason you are looking for a travel pillow—no one likes being tired and in pain from sleeping in uncomfortable positions when away from home. Because of this, you will want to look for a travel pillow that properly supports your head, neck, and chin comfortably for several hours without needing to wake up and make adjustments. It’s also a good idea to think about how well the pillow will hold up to the movements of the plane, train, car, or bus you are traveling in.   

Of course, everyone’s opinions differ on what is most comfortable, so consider how firm, soft, cool, and supportive you want your travel pillow to be. If you find the correct combination of these qualities, you can prevent neck and back aches, numbness in your limbs, or headaches on your trip.

Extras & Accessories: Some travel pillow manufacturers are taking their products one step further and including other sleep accessories or features that could enhance your on-the-go sleep. Some accessories you may see as part of a package with a travel pillow are sleep masks, ear plugs, blankets, air pumps, or compression carrying bags. In some cases, travel pillows are equipped with a pouch to hold items you want to keep close to you when sleeping in public. If these items and extras would be helpful to you, there are many travel pillow options that offer them, but keep in mind that they could take up some more space in your luggage.

What Are the Top Seven Travel Pillows?

Here is a summary of the top seven travel pillows, each offering a unique combination of desirable features. All of these products are highly rated, and sleep tested.

Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow

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The Travelrest Ultimate Travel Pillow is inflatable and has a unique, non-traditional design. When inflated, this pillow is long and narrow and wider at one end to support the head and neck. It can be used in a variety of ways, including across the torso or down one side of the torso, and it stays in place with an adjust able strap that goes around the back or seat. When deflated, the pillow rolls up neatly and compactly, and it can attach to the outside of a suitcase or fit nicely inside. This pillow is washable, comes in 5 different colors, and has a 2-year warranty. There is also a plush cover made from velour and memory foam that is designed specifically for this pillow (sold separately).

Pros:

  • Imitates side-sleeping
  • Easy to inflate and deflate
  • Rolls up compactly
  • Comfortable

Cons:

  • Risk of leaks
  • May take some getting used to

TravelMate Memory Foam Neck Pillow

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The TravelMate Memory Foam Neck Pillow is a traditional, u-shaped travel pillow. It comes with a removable insert that can be added or taken away to adjust the thickness of the back of the pillow. This pillow is made from conforming memory foam, and it has a zippered, machine-washable velour cover. It easily attaches to the outside of a suitcase with a built-in elastic strap, and it is available in navy blue. Finally, TravelMate offers a 30-day, money-back guarantee with the purchase of this product.

Pros:

  • Soft and comfortable
  • Easy to clean
  • Great value for the price

Cons:

  • U-shape can feel restricting around the neck
  • Could become too warm

BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow

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The BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow is a modified version of the u-shaped travel pillow that wraps completely around the neck in order to support the chin if your head falls forward. It can also be twisted and formed into multiple shapes and positions. This pillow is equipped with a strap that snaps onto the outside of your luggage, and the back of the pillow is flat so that it doesn’t push your head forward. It is machine washable, and it comes in a variety of colors and sizes, including child sizes. This pillow is also available for purchase in packs of two for a discounted price.

Pros:

  • Soft materials
  • Versatile
  • Cozy
  • Provides chin support

Cons:

  • Could become too warm
  • May not provide enough support

Everlasting Comfort 100% Pure Memory Foam Neck Pillow

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The Everlasting Comfort 100% Pure Memory Foam Neck Pillow is an updated version of a traditional, u-shaped travel pillow. It is made from memory foam and has raised sides to better support the head and neck. This pillow is soft, yet firm, and stays in place with a drawstring. It also features a cell phone pocket and comes with a sleep mask, two sets of memory foam earplugs, and a carrying bag that can snap to the outside of a suitcase. The soft cover can be zipped away for cleaning, and Everlasting Comfort offers a lifetime replacement guarantee with the purchase of this set.

Pros:

  • Soft and comfortable
  • Comes with accessories
  • Has an adjustable drawstring

Cons:

  • May be overstuffed/too bulky for some
  • No chin support

Trtl Pillow

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The Trtl Pillow has a unique, scarf-like design that wraps completely around the neck. It is made with soft, hypoallergenic fleece that hides an internal, cushioned support piece to hold up your neck and head when tilted to one side. The scarf-life design allows it to be adjusted to anyone’s body. This pillow is lightweight and doesn’t take up a lot of space, so it can be packed in a suitcase or attached to the outside of luggage. The Trtl pillow comes in four colors, is machine washable, and has been scientifically proven to provide adequate neck support.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Provides ideal neck support
  • Soft material

Cons:

  • Could become too warm
  • Only supports one side at a time
  • May take some getting used to

J Pillow

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The J Pillow has a unique design that loosely resembles the letter J, and each of the three arms support the head, neck, and chin. This pillow can be adjusted and formed into whichever position you prefer. It is soft, yet supportive, and keeps your head in place. This pillow is durable, machine washable, comes with a carrying bag, and has a strap that snaps onto the outside of your luggage. It comes in a navy-blue color. Finally, the J Pillow was invented by a flight attendant, and it won the British Invention of the Year Award in 2012.

Pros:

  • Versatile and adjustable
  • Soft and comfortable
  • Stays in place

Cons:

  • Only supports one side at a time
  • May take some getting used to

Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow

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The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow closely resembles a regular bed pillow. It is ultralight and can be easily compressed with a drawstring lock for packing. When open, the urethane foam filling creates a 4-inch thick pillow that supports the head, neck, and back, which can be fluffed into the shape you prefer. The cover is made from brushed polyester, and the whole pillow is machine washable. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Travel Pillow comes in 8 different colors and patterns, as well as sizes ranging from small to extra-large.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and compact
  • Durable
  • Provides adequate support
  • Will not lose its shape over time

Cons:

  • No chin support
  • Filling may seem lumpy

Travel Pillows— Final Thoughts

While traveling can be a life-changing experience, it can also be uncomfortable and stressful, so you need your sleep. Plus, sleep makes the unpleasant part of traveling go faster, so you can get right to the good stuff without pain or discomfort. Luckily, travel pillows can be just the tool you need to get some restful sleep, even when you’re in a seated position with fluorescent lights and the noise from strangers around you, and they are reasonably priced. So, there are endless travel pillow options available, and the best one is the one that allows you to get the comfortable rest you need when you’re away from home.

About Marissa Gvozdenovich Marissa is an English teacher and writer. She enjoys the Florida beach life with her husband and puppy.