Instructions needed: neck pillow
March 31, 2010 1:08 AM   Subscribe

A silly question, but how do I use those U-shaped neck pillows? I know I'm supposed to put the wider part (bottom of "U") behind my neck, but this pushes my chin down and as I have no support for it on the front (top of "U"), my neck hurts even more than if I just let my head loll around.

I have a 12-hour flight in 2 days and I want to come to my destination reasonably rested and pain-free. I've slept in uncomfortable positions before, but it was always in a car, on a bus or on a train, where I could rest my head against the window. I'll be in the aisle seat on the plane and traveling alone, so no resting my head against anything or anyone.

That's where the neck pillow is supposed to come in - but after trying it out at home for a couple of minutes, it seems really uncomfortable! Like I said, it pushes my head forward and down all the way to my chest.

Any suggestions? Does it get better after more than a few minutes? Would it be better if I just turned the pillow around so the wider part supported my chin instead of my neck?
posted by gakiko to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think they're supposed to support the chin. I found them pretty handy when I was travelling a lot: basically your head tilts back and slightly to one side, but is supported enough that you don't get neck-ache when you wake up.

The guy next to the curtain in this pic seems to demonstrate it. It's comfortable but not particularly elegant.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:29 AM on March 31, 2010

I've used them as in TheophileEscargot's pic, but I know what you mean about the problem of your head being pushed forward. I got an inflatable one that I could adjust so I didn't have the problem you had. I would spend some time before sleeping adjusting to find the most comfortable configuration, turning the U if necessary--for instance, the U sideways so my chin and back of my head had support. Once or twice, when I felt like leaning forward, I even turned the U around so that my chin had support instead.

Not sure if this is recommended practice, and it probably looks pretty goofy, but I got better sleep on planes using my pillow than I ever had before.
posted by col_pogo at 1:47 AM on March 31, 2010

Try scooting your butt forward in the seat a little so your back isn't pressing flat against the seat back. This might help adjust your angle. Also, try leaning your head to the side, rather than straight backwards, the pillow should prop it up without pushing it forward too terribly.

Seconding the inflatable neck pillow, which makes it easier to adjust how much support you're getting.

One practical tip for the regular (non-inflatable) pillow - I sewed a ribbon to each end of the U to make it easier to carry. I can simply loop them through the handle of my suitcase and tie them together so I don't need to worry about stuffing it in a bag or dropping it by accident. Extra bonus, I often tie the ends together when I'm using it to keep it from slipping off my neck in my sleep. And when I'm not traveling I leave it tied around the passenger seat in my car for extra neck support. :)
posted by platinum at 2:11 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most neck pillows are poorly designed for precisely the reason you describe. You can find some with a narrower back channel and thicker sides that are better.

I find turning the back to whatever side I want to sleep towards helps -- so the big thick back goes to one side, and I lean my head on it, then one arm is behind my neck, and the other arm is supporting my chin, and my opposite shoulder is free.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2010

I find that I get the most comfortable support when the pillow is only partially inflated. If yours is inflatable, try letting some air out.
posted by carter at 6:51 AM on March 31, 2010

I had this same problem with a stuffed U-pillow that was stiff and (I felt) over-full of its innards. I had better luck with one that was stuffed full of what felt like tiny styrofoam beads, because I could push the beads around until it was to my liking. Do you have time ot buy

I know other people who turn the U completely around - whatever works for you!

Try scooting your butt forward in the seat a little so your back isn't pressing flat against the seat back. This might help adjust your angle

This is the only thing that helped me. The problem is, being comfortable on a flight and not having to hold your back muscles in a particular position for 12 hours. I managed to make a back support out of airplane pillows and bunched up sweaters, so I could sit forward in the seat, but you probably have enough time to buy a proper back support pillow.

Also: if you feel okay with sleeping pills, I recommend those in combination with sleeping very little the night before your flight. I managed to sleep through 9 hours of my 11 hour flight using these two tactics and I woke up extremely refreshed.
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:22 AM on March 31, 2010

Ugh - sorry.

"Do you have time ot buy" was supposed to be "Do you have time to buy, or to shop for a different pillow?"
posted by cranberrymonger at 7:23 AM on March 31, 2010

I think it depends on both your height and what position you want to sleep in. I am short, and so the back of the airline seat tends to have a raised neck support area that (unhelpfully) aligns right at the back of my head, instead of just below, where I think it aligns for taller people. As a result, it is impossible for me to sleep with my head straight back (or like the guy in the photo TheophileEscargot linked to).

I use the pillow with the open end toward the back, and I rest my chin on it, or my cheek, in a slightly angled position. That seems to work fairly well. It does also help to shove another pillow or blanket behind your back in the lumbar area so your body can angle down at more of a slope.
posted by amusebuche at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2010

a related question - anyone have a suggestion for those of us that don't fit in the midget sized airplane seats? I'm not _that_ tall but my shoulders clear the top leaving nowhere for such a pillow to brace.

please don't ask about a recent flight vancouver->texas that got routed through mexico
posted by mce at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2010

I freaking hate those things. They look like such a good idea but are not well-designed!

My new tactic is to bring a compact-able blanket. I got a fleece one in an airport that was marketed for such - it rolls up nicely. I've also seen them at the drugstore. I use that to make my own customized neck pillow. I can roll it behind my neck, or scrunch it up and lean on it, or just use as a blanket. Definitely worth the space it takes up in my backpack.
posted by radioamy at 6:41 PM on March 31, 2010

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