This Travel Pillow Helped Me Sleep on a Plane for Eight Solid Hours
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This oddly shaped travel pillow promises to help anyone sleep on a plane. With a 12-hour flight looming, we decided to try it out.
Even if, like me, you love to travel, facing down a really long flight is enough to make anyone clutch their favorite travel pillow a little tighter. But I had a good reason to book that 12-hour flight from Los Angeles International to Auckland, New Zealand: I was moving home, excited to hug my family for the first time in two years. But the flight, that punishingly long test of personal endurance, stood in my way.
I cannot sleep on planes. At all. At home, I have a cooling pillow for those hot summer nights. Days spent researching the best pillows for every sleeper led me to my personal sleep salvation, an amazing pillow for side sleepers. But despite trying every travel neck pillow out there, the noise of the engine and the insistence that passengers stay near-vertical have always stopped me from catching even one wink on a plane, let alone 40. This time, I was determined to find the best travel pillow. I came across the trtl travel pillow, which has more than 16,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, and I decided to try it out. One 12-hour flight later, I was a trtl—I mean, total—convert.
What is the trtl travel pillow?
With over 1 million sold, there’s no doubt among consumers that trtl is the best travel pillow around. However, it looks nothing like any other travel pillow you’ve ever seen. In fact, it looks remarkably like a scarf. Where other travel neck pillows wrap around your neck in a U-shape, the trtl travel pillow has an internal plastic frame shaped like a C, sort of like a neck brace. It’s designed to fit between your shoulder and your ear, supporting your head while you snooze. The frame is padded for comfort, and it’s held in place by a long panel of soft fleece that wraps around your neck and attaches with Velcro. The scarf-like warmth of the trtl was especially important for me, because I tend to get cold on the plane.
When I first came across the trtl, a few things made me hesitate: For starters, at $29.99, it seemed a bit pricey. I was also worried that wearing my headphones under it would be uncomfortable, or that it would be hard to breathe with a mask on and a scarf wrapped around my head. Sure, there are much cheaper travel pillows, but all the top-rated ones were around the same price, and many were even more expensive. I figured that if my investment paid off in even an hour or two of sleep, I wouldn’t mind spending the money. As for my other concerns, once on the plane, I found that even though I had earbuds in and a mask on, I was still comfortable, because the frame is padded and the fleece is forgiving. When it’s in place, the frame feels firm and supportive, but it doesn’t dig in, and the fleece is warm, cozy, and…zzzzz… There are a lot of things you won’t be able to do on airplanes anymore, but sleep is definitely not on my list anymore, thanks to the trtl.
How does it work?
Chiropractor and yoga instructor Erika Putnam says that neck pillows for travel are a great idea. “The best ones would support the natural cervical curvature of the spine,” she explains. In layman’s terms, that’s the normal curve of your neck vertebrae. “Airline seats and gravity tend to reverse the natural curve, which, for some people, can irritate disc problems and arthritis, and even [cause] arm pain.” We knew airline seats were designed with our discomfort in mind! According to Putnam, a good neck pillow should minimize strain on the muscles and ligaments, support the natural curve of your neck, and provide a sign to your neighbor that you are serious about sleeping, not chatting, which is a great tip for people who dread making small talk.
The need to support the natural curvature of the neck also explains why the trtl worked for me when no previous travel pillow has. Every time I’ve tried to use a standard, U-shaped travel neck pillow in the past, it’s been a classic airplane travel mistake. My head would just flop, unsupported, to the side—uncomfortably stretching one side of my neck and compressing the other. What makes the trtl the best travel pillow is that it’s ergonomically designed to support the weight of your head, keeping your neck in neutral alignment. This is extremely important. As if it wasn’t difficult enough to sleep sitting up in a cramped airline seat, the average human head weighs around 10 pounds, which is a lot for anyone’s neck to deal with for 24 hours.
Luckily, I had the trtl to take the brain strain off my poor vertebrae. Once I had it positioned properly between my shoulder and my ear, my head was only tilted a little bit to the side, just enough for the trtl to take the weight of my head. If I shut my eyes, I could almost be lying down!
So, did the trtl travel pillow help me sleep?
Well, out of the 12 total hours I spent on the plane, eight of them passed in sweet, sweet sleep. Eight! That’s a regular night’s sleep, according to doctors. On its own, even the best travel pillow couldn’t solve all my sleep woes (read: the engine noise), so I added some headphones and snoozed my way over the Pacific Ocean for (say it with me) EIGHT STRAIGHT HOURS! The other four hours of plane time I spent reading, watching movies, walking around the cabin, and trying to find the emergency chocolate I had stashed in the bottom of my bag.
Sure, I woke up from time to time, usually to rotate the trtl travel pillow from one side of my neck to the other, but overall, my sleep quality rated well above expected for an airplane trip. I arrived in Auckland free of neck pain and feeling pretty good, and I made it through nearly a full day of wakefulness before the jet lag kicked in. But that’s a whole other story. (Although if anyone has a cure for jet lag, please, please let me know).
- Once you remove the plastic insert, the pillow is machine washable.
- It’s lightweight (weighing only half a pound).
- It’s smaller than regular travel neck pillows, making it easy to pack.
- It’s made of warm, antimicrobial fleece.
- It comes in four cool colors.
- It’s ergonomically designed to keep your neck in alignment.
- You can choose from three sizes: Junior, Adult, and Plus.
- The Plus pillow is adjustable for different heights and body shapes.
- It’s perfect for side sleepers like me!
- Some people have difficulty finding a comfortable position. Everyone’s body is different, but the trtl travel pillow seems to work for most folks, and the Plus pillow can be adjusted.
- The Velcro is quite loud. I felt a bit self-conscious about the repeated ripping sounds I made as I adjusted the trtl to best support my head.
- If you run hot, the fleece might be a tad warm for you.
- While the trtl pillow small enough to fit in most carry-on bags, it doesn’t fold flat, which can be awkward if you tend to overpack.
Where to buy the trtl travel pillow
Amazon reviewers are also obsessed with this travel neck pillow
I’m not the only happy napper! Here are a few five-star Amazon reviews from other impressed travelers:
My2cents: “This pillow is great! First time using trtl, I literally fell asleep before takeoff, slept like an unperturbed baby, and awoke seven hours later, shortly before landing! Needless to say, I was, surprised, well rested…and thrilled! I also used trtl to nap out at a charging station at Dublin International on the way back. I must say, it’s the ultimate airport cat-nap accessory!”
Cecilia: “The trtl has changed everything. I boarded my transatlantic flight, wrapped the trtl around me, placed my headphones (awkwardly) over my ears, and woke up eight hours later landing in Stockholm. I couldn’t believe it. Then I boarded a bus, trusty trtl in tow, and knocked out again for another five hours! I wasn’t even tired—I was just using it to relax and look out the window! I don’t know if they soak the damn thing in chloroform, but it works and I’m never traveling without the trtl again.”
Frank E. Trinkle: “FINALLY!!!!! I travel internationally on very long flights, unfortunately in Economy, every four weeks. Some flights in excess of 12 hours nonstop. I have tried many products, trying to find one that actually supports my head comfortably and allows me to get some real sleep while sitting in an awful seat. This is the first and ONLY one that has actually fit the bill! More than highly recommended—irreplaceable!”
Next, check out these other top-rated sleep products on Amazon that will help you get some shut-eye on a flight and in your own bed.
- Erika Putnam, a chiropractor and yoga instructor at The Bend in Whitefish, Montana
- Winston Medical Center: “Human Brain Facts”