Should You Sleep With A Travel Pillow Or Neck Pillow In Bed?

Should You Sleep With A Travel Pillow Or Neck Pillow In Bed?

By Dr. Shoaib Muhammad , published on August 17, 2023
Dr Shoaib Muhammad,MD

There aren’t too many travel pillows around that offer both comfort and support.

But, if you’ve got one, you’ll know that sleeping well on a plane is possible.

This often leads people to the question: can you sleep in bed with a travel pillow?

If you’ve got a super comfortable pillow of any type, it’s often worth experimenting.

What Is a Neck Pillow vs a Travel Pillow?

People sometimes use the terms travel pillow and neck pillow interchangeably, but they are in fact different things. Let's quickly get our definitions straight.

Understanding Neck & Travel Pillow

What Is a Travel Pillow?

The U-shaped pillow, a familiar sight at airports and long coach journeys, is designed to cradle and support your neck.

This ingenious design ensures that your head receives the support it needs from all sides while globetrotting.

What Is a Neck Pillow?

Neck pillows are those made for restful sleep at home in your bed. They're also sometimes called cervical pillows.

These aren’t just any ordinary pillows; they're engineered to hug the natural curvature of your neck.

They act as guardians against the neck or shoulder aches that can happen due to poor sleeping positions.

As we explore the topic, we'll use this terminology for each type. That means the term "travel pillow" will be the U-shape design and "neck pillow" will be the type designed for use in bed.

How to Use a Neck Pillow Correctly

So you've got your neck pillow, you know that the raised section is designed to support the gap between your shoulders and your head.

But there are a few things to know based on what sleeping position you prefer.

For Stomach Sleepers

Aligning your spine during stomach sleeping can be tricky because strain is placed on your lower back. One simple trick is to nestle the pillow beneath your forehead.

This can offer a straightened spinal pathway. That means a much lower chance of waking up with that familiar neck or lower back twinge.

For Side Sleepers

Sleeping on the side can sometimes feel like solving a puzzle. Especially with the head-to-shoulder gap. This void, if left unattended, can become a breeding ground for discomfort and neck strain.

A neck pillow slots into this space, acting as a bridge, thus ensuring that your neck remains in harmonious alignment with your spine.

Side sleepers with broader shoulders often prefer cervical pillows with more raised bulges, but it's not a hard and fast rule.

For Back Sleepers

If you lie on your back, a neck pillow with a lower profile may be preferable. This is also one of the sleeping positions that may be more suitable for a travel pillow.

That's because the travel pillow does such a good job at filling that space between your neck and your head. 

Neck Pillow Sleeping Posture Tips

Sleeping With a Travel Pillow in Bed

If you often wake up with cervical pain, consider experimenting with a travel pillow. If you've a more serious pre-existing neck condition, check with your doctor first. 

A high quality travel pillow such as SNUGL's deliver top-tier support. It can brace the neck to minimise movement while you sleep which could help several neck conditions where more support is needed.

If you're going to experiment, here's how to do it. 

Put on your pillow as you lie down. If you sleep on your back, make sure both your head and shoulders touch the bed. [1]

Minding your spine alignment is key in preventing neck pain. Side sleepers, your nose and head should align with your body's midline. Back sleepers, keep your head level with your body, neither too high nor too low.

Some sources recommend rotating your pillow to its lobed side every couple of weeks. [2]

With a memory foam pillow though, you shouldn't need to since it will maintain its shape.

How to Wear a Travel Pillow on Planes

Travel pillows are a game-changer for long-haul flights, transforming uncomfortable plane seats into a cozy nook for restful sleep. Here's how to wear a travel pillow on a plane the right way. 

Conventional Position

The first of these positions is the conventional position, which involves wearing the neck pillow so that the pillow's bulk supports your cervical spine (back of your neck).

This position is applicable when you have no specific neck conditions. Contrarily, in the reverse position, the bulk of the neck pillow is in front supporting your chin and jaw. This position is unsuitable when you have neck pains or breathing difficulties. [2]

Over-the-Shoulder Position

Another position is the over-the-shoulder position. Here, the bulk of your pillow should be placed on the shoulder more convenient for you.

This would ensure support to the side of your neck. You should opt for this position if you plan to lean to the side and sit in middle or aisle seats. However, you shouldn't use this position if you have any underlying neck or upper back problems, or at least check with your doctor first. [2]

Front Position

The last position is the front position, in which you wear your neck pillow around the front of your neck. This position provides gentle support around your neck area and could be considered the best of all positions. [2]

Neck Pain and Sleeping

Poor support while sleeping, poor sleeping position (like stomach sleeping), or even an old mattress can cause you neck pain.

Sleeping with a travel pillow in bed may help neck pain, but it may not be enough to make up for a poor mattress that's long past its best.

If this happens, a change of mattress coupled with side sleeping and proper alignment are both worth considering. Exercise and cold and heat sessions (15 minutes each) can also help. [3]

However, if your neck pain comes with additional symptoms, you should act quickly.

For instance, experiencing neck stiffness and a headache alongside neck pain can indicate serious conditions like meningitis or subarachnoid haemorrhage. You must see your doctor without delay [3].

Why Back Pain at Night Is a Red Flag

If you're considering sleeping with a travel pillow in bed because you're getting back pain at night, remember that this symptom is a red flag.

It is rare, but worth checking with your doctor, especially if you're getting it along with other symptoms.

For example, back pain at night coupled with unexplained weight loss could signify a spinal tumour or cancer.

Some other examples of back pain red flag symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Painful leg muscles.
  • Saddle anaesthesia.
  • Recent illness or surgery.
  • History of infection or trauma.
  • Urinary incontinence.

In any of these cases, you are advised to see your doctor. Sleeping with a travel pillow in your bed may help but won't be sufficient if you've got any of these symptoms. [4]

Recognising & Addressing Pain

The Bottom Line

Whether you're jet-setting across the globe or simply seeking good sleep in the comfort of your bed, using the perfect neck pillow or travel pillow can help a lot.

Understanding the differences between these pillows and using them appropriately would greatly enhance the quality of your sleep, prevent you from neck pains and ensure you're properly refreshed for any task ahead.

Remember, the key to a good night's sleep lies in the details. That means:

  • The right pillow.
  • Proper sleeping posture.
  • A sleep-friendly environment.

So, experiment to find what works for you. Make the most of neck and travel pillows to sleep well and wake up refreshed, ready to embrace the day regardless of your location.


1. Help Guide: Sleeping Posture & Positions - Physiomed

2. How to Wear a Travel Pillow (The Right Way) - SNUGL

3. Lee WH, Ko MS. Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017 PMC5468189.

4. U.S.Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health. Low Back Pain (2020)

5. Arakelyan, Hayk. (2020). Sleeping Position and Back Pain -