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Lifestyle & Life Moments

Why You Should Travel With Your Pillow

A close up of George Kittle's custom mattress firm pillow carrying case.

Good morning from somewhere other than your perfect bed at home! Whether you’re off on a business trip or visiting relatives, sleeping away from home from time to time is inevitable. And unfortunately, time away from your own perfect bed can mean less-than-ideal sleep.

After all, everything feels different when you’re not in your bed at home. While it’s not practical to take your entire mattress with you when you travel, there is something smaller that can help make sleeping away from home much more comfortable. Bringing your pillow along can be a great way to help ensure restful and rejuvenating sleep even when you’re far from home. Here’s why you should consider bringing a slice of your home sleep setup on the road.

Your Pillow Affects Your Sleep

Think of your pillow as a bed for your head. While your mattress takes care of comfort and support for your body, the pillow is in charge of the neck and head. In the hierarchy of the perfect bed, a pillow might seem less important than the mattress, but it serves a critical role, particularly when it comes to alignment. If you’ve ever dealt with a sore neck or batted down a pillow that was too tall, you understand how important a pillow can be for a good night’s sleep.

Mattress Firm Sleep Expert® Jess Knowles works at a location near a busy convention center, so she sees plenty of customers coming in during work trips in dire need of a better pillow than what the hotel has offered. Knowles explains that once you find a pillow you love, traveling with it can make all the difference. “It’s that piece of home that can make you feel comfortable,” she emphasizes.

Sleeping on an unsupportive pillow, one that doesn’t match your preferred sleeping position or one that’s the wrong loft, could spell a painful trip, and if you don’t sleep well while traveling, that can affect your mood and how you feel while away. Packing your own pillow can offer some assurance that you’re in for sound sleep on a pillow that works great for you.

As the Official Sleep Partner of the San Francisco 49ers, Mattress Firm is committed to helping the team with rest and recovery. When the team learned they would have the second-most-traveled schedule during the 2023-2024 season, Mattress Firm Sleep Experts® in the Bay Area stepped in to fit the players, coaches and support staff with pillows for home and travel, including their perfect loft of the Sleepy’s Charcoal Cool Pillow and the relaxing Coconut Bliss Pillow. As a result, the entire team was able to ensure great sleep regardless of where they were, which helped them on their road to the championship.

49ers player George Kittle in front of a travel bus holding his MFRM custom fitted pillow.

What Makes a Good Pillow

A lot goes into a great pillow, but three especially important elements are the pillow’s design, fill and loft. The best pillow suits your individual needs and comfort preferences. Knowles explains stomach sleepers tend to sleep best on a pillow with a lower loft (a lower level of fill), while side sleepers require a higher loft to ensure the space between the shoulder and head is properly supported.

A pillow that’s too high or low for your sleeping style could leave you with neck or shoulder pain, which is never desirable but can be frustrating to deal with while on vacation or traveling for work.

Mattress Firm Sleep Experts® help decide which pillows work best through pillow fittings, factoring in considerations like your sleep position and current mattress to determine your ideal pillow. The best pillow for you sits at the right loft and is made of a material you find comfortable, like memory foam or a down-alternative fill. If you tend to sleep hot and flip the pillow to the cool side throughout the night, your best pillow also includes cooling materials.

The Problem With Hotel Pillows

If you know what type of loft and fill suits you best, you’re well on your way to getting great sleep. However, your hotel’s pillow might not feel as comfortable as your pillow at home. “Everyone can probably relate to the problem of going to a hotel and the pillow is either huge or as flat as a pancake,” Knowles says.

Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist and sleep specialist, discussed the issue with hotel pillows in his podcast Sleep Unplugged. “I feel like hotels these days are just using bigger and thicker pillows in general,” he says. “My guess is that if you got into a board room, they would discuss that putting the bigger and more billowy pillows on the bed just looks more luxe and inviting than a thin little pillow.”

Not all sleepers are suited to a high-loft pillow, though, and Winter warns of sleeping with your neck at an uncomfortable angle, mentioning some studies have linked morning headaches to sleeping on the wrong pillow. A hotel pillow that’s too thin might be easier to fix (stacking two together or folding one in half) than a pillow that’s too tall.

Winter and Knowles both mention sleeping on the wrong pillow can also worsen some sleep disorders. Snoring or sleep apnea, for example, can be impacted by what pillow you sleep on since the airway and breathing are impacted by a pillow. Winter mentions that a pillow is far from a remedy for breathing-related sleep issues, but sleeping on the right pillow can make a difference.

Football player Arik Armstead outside in front of buses with other football players, holding a red pillow-shaped bag that reads Mattress Firm | SF.

Best Travel-Friendly Pillows

If you’re looking to ditch the uncomfortable hotel pillow and travel with your own pillow from home, these are Knowles’ top recommendations.

Sleepy’s Charcoal Cool Pillow

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With three lofts to accommodate all frames and sleep styles, this pillow is a favorite for a reason. The cooling technology helps draw heat from your body, plus the moisture-wicking cover ensures that even after a long day of travel, you wake up feeling fresh. Best of all, the charcoal infusion eliminates odors and keeps this pillow fresh, even far from home.

Sleepy's Coconut Bliss Pillow

Coconut Bliss Pillow

Want the vacation to travel with you? This luxurious memory foam pillow feels like an instant vacation, thanks to its gently conforming material and subtle aromatherapeutic coconut scent. A Sleep Expert® and customer favorite, the Coconut Bliss pillow offers excellent support and pressure relief, with three times more airflow than a conventional pillow. Plus, studies find that pleasing scents during sleep can improve cognitive function and memories overnight, making you a sharper, savvier traveler.

Sleepy's FRíO® Chill Hybrid Pillow

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Suitable for all sleeping styles, the Sleepy’s hybrid pillow offers the unique feature of allowing you to adjust the loft. While the outer pillow is a down-alternative material with cloudlike comfort, the inner pillow is a responsive and cooling memory foam pillow.

Together, Knowles says the pillow is a dream for many sleepers, and the inner portion of this pillow is ideal for packing into a suitcase. “You can actually easily stick this inside your suitcase without it being too bulky,” she says. Another benefit of the Sleepy’s Chill Hybrid is its hypoallergenic materials that can be useful when traveling through airports, on planes, and in hotels.

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Adapt® Cloud + Cooling Pillow

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Knowles also champions the Tempur-Pedic Adapt Cloud pillow if you experience any type of back or neck pain. “This pillow is phenomenal if you’re dealing with pain,” she says. The Adapt Cloud pillow uses Tempur-Pedic’s softest Cloud material that adapts to your head, neck and shoulders for just the right amount of support. The cover is cool-to-the-touch, which could be great for hot sleepers, and it’s machine washable, so you can be sure it’s clean when you get back home.

Tips for Traveling With Your Pillow

Now that you have your perfect pillow sorted, here are some helpful tips for packing it safely without it causing any burden.

Use a pillow protector

Knowles emphasizes the importance of using a pillow protector if you’re turning your perfect pillow into your travel companion. A pillow protector ensures your pillow stays free of any dust, dander, moisture or allergens that could hinder its feel and performance, including germs and bacteria from traveling in luggage or on a plane with you. She recommends the PureCare FRíO® 360° Waterproof Pillow Protector to make sure your pillow makes it home in the same pristine condition as when you left.

Store it wisely

It might seem cumbersome to pack a fluffy pillow into your suitcase, but most pillows are made with fill material that’s easy to compress. A pillow’s padding might even come in handy for protecting fragile items in your carry-on suitcase. If your journey involves hopping in the car, just be sure to pack your pillow in a bag that’ll keep it safe from collecting any dirt. Just in case, plan to bring a spare pillowcase so that you are always sleeping on a clean, fresh surface.

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