We invented our little gadget that we lovingly call the SleeperStik because the standard for travel sleep aids offended us so. We wanted to articulate our disdain for these products, and as we set out to prove our case, we discovered nothing short of a scientific consensus on par with climate change. Using that knowledge, here are our very unscientific thoughts about this information.
We’ve all heard of them, we’ve all traveled, tried them—and we’ve all been like, “what the … why did I buy this?” That’s because there are few options to consider during last-minute airport shopping for snacks, sleep aids, accouterments for vacationing, business travel, changing your identity, and fleeing the country. So, better than using a leather coat as a pillow or a scrunched-up blanket covered in COVID like a modern-day pilgrim, we opt for the socially acceptable and commonly-referred-to-as-uncomfortable neck pillow – that, ironically – almost seems to prevent sleep, like a bad dream bringing along neck pains and existential malaise that weren’t there before the attempted mid-flight, power nap.
But most of this article is subjective, or anecdotal, or biased as an attempt to draw customers away from the neck pillow industry that sells millions of units per year, right? Maybe. Who really cares? We’re simply giving you five reasons to avoid the travel neck pillow in all of their various fluffy iterations and perhaps invoke a creative exploration on part of you, the busy traveler, to find alternatives—all-natural sleep aids, safe sleep, healthy and pain-free ways of grabbing power naps, catching Zs, counting sheep—not becoming one by wearing a neck pillow around the terminal, like some tourist jerk.
People Hate Them
The modern consumer turns to the internet before making most purchasing decisions, whether with Amazon and its starry reviews, Yelp, Reddit, your insane uncle on Facebook, or industry blogs. Aside from ephemeral items like clothing and inexpensive goods bought on a whim, with little or potentially no purchasing regret, this is the way it is done in the information age. When it comes to travel neck pillows, even the ones that claim to be “the best travel pillow,” or “first-class” and whatnot, no one is convinced and the general consensus is, “these things pretty much suck.” Yes, you may find some five-star reviews or people that cannot travel without them, but unless it’s a paid review, I doubt you will find anyone saying, “I got the best sleep of my life,” or “that was an excellent in-flight nap, I’m glad this neck pillow works so well,” that is, unless the reviewer was drunk at the time of writing, or drunk at the time of the nap. So, if no one seems to like them, they’re not reviewed positively, why do we keep buying them? Maybe it’s because they sell them in airports? Yeah, they do sell them there—so they must work, right?
They Don’t Work
According to an article by the Washington Post, there is little research on both the requirements the neck needs to get a good sleep, along with if neck pillows are actually working, or if this is a case of the placebo, or herd mentality at play, in re. to economics. “There is no evidence, either personal or scientific, to suggest that these travel neck pillows have any efficacy.” Of course, the spine needs to be in alignment and the neck cannot be contorted or bent in such a way as to initiate pain after an extended period of time in that position. Then you add in the variable of turbulence, coupled with the open space in the front of the neck pillow, like a bite taken out of a donut, there is little support to prevent head bobbing, or any movement caused by the smoothness of the flight itself, or lack thereof.
Not only that, the U-shaped pillow has changed little since the patent was published in 1929, which is telling in and of itself. No improvements? Market research? Anything? Imagine if other inventions from 1929, or aspects of living one’s life, remained unchecked, unchanged, and were passed off as adequate enough for the ever-evolving modern landscape we find ourselves in today? Human rights, social norms, rhetoric, safety codes, automobiles, TV shows—they didn’t even have TV back then, I don’t think. You get the point.
They Look Dumb
The dumbest. Like a neck brace that’s non-prescription and so, isn’t justified by physical injury or medical expertise of any kind. Again, they don’t work, so why do we confidently wear them around?
Consumers purchase upwards of 100 million neck pillows per year, with prices ranging anywhere from $10 to $100 or more, dependent upon the quality and variations in fabric or brand name. So, what exactly are the benefits of neck pillows? What are you paying for, besides the feeling of, I don’t know, psychological comfort, knowing you’re heading into a flight with a pillow versus without one? An article by The Bedding Planet cites the benefits of neck pillows, listing a few adjectives and bullet points such as durability, easy sanitization, they’re similar to your pillow at home, breathability and warmth, fatigue prevention, portability, and even the reduction of snoring and sleep apnea. That’s some pretty good brainstorming, but the U-shaped pillow is nothing like my pillow at home, but thanks for reminding me of “home,” where I’m lying in a bed, not upright in tight corners, surrounded by strangers who may or may not be talking, breathing loud, smelling terribly—and the bed never moves if it hits a storm cloud.
I’m not sure what breathability means, but if it’s referring to the gap in the donut, yes, a hole in the pillow does make it more breathable, just at the price of the pillow being effective at all. Pillows can be warm; they are quite portable, as anything that size and weight would be, but fatigue prevention? You mean, they prevent you from becoming tired, or wishing to sleep? Weirdly enough, I would actually agree. Neck pillows work so terribly and the design is so inept, that after attempting a power nap with a neck pillow, you quickly lose the optimism and desire to sleep at all, as your fatigue instantly evolves into irritability and wired claustrophobia. Neck pillows prevent fatigue, just like they may induce hallucinations through sleep deprivation and the weariness associated with flight travel.
There Are Alternatives
There are a number of neck pillow renditions popping up that range from unique and interesting, to absurd and somewhat embarrassing to try. Some are simply full donut pillows, having filled in the missing gap in the traditional neck pillow design. Some have 1970’s NBA headband straps on them to keep your head flush to the airline seat, like that guy in A Clockwork Orange when he’s forced to watch horrific films with his eyelids pried open. Some have plastic pieces that go down your spine, and some are simpler, easier to conceptualize, resembling a selfie stick that rests beneath your chin, keeping your head in place without it looking like you’re in a full body straitjacket, or somehow have polio. Of course, you can always find a tablet or pill that induces sleep, or the old-fashioned way, an alcoholic beverage that reduces mental care over the many sleep deterrents found on a plane. Either way, it’s up to the traveler to try them all out and see what works best for them—cause the neck pillows have to go, it’s been 100 years; doctors have quit smoking since then, we can finally quit buying those things.
Sleep on it.