Help me learn how to read in moving vehicles without feeling sick.
August 15, 2010 12:13 PM   Subscribe

I envy people who can read in cars, buses and subway trains without getting nauseous. Why is it that some people can do this, while others can't? How can I be more like them?

About a few seconds after I look down at a page while in a moving vehicle (except for airplanes), I get a wave of nausea and its game over. What is going on, physiologically, and how can I change it? I'm not looking for solutions like, "take dramamine," as I don't want to pop pills just to enjoy my book on the bus.
posted by iamkimiam to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is just another form of motion sickness. Your brain is registering movement from your inner ear and your eyes are fixated on something that is not moving. This is a conflicting signal and causes the nausea you experience.

You may be able to overcome this by simply forcing yourself to continue reading multiple times after getting nausea.
You can try reading with the book up higher so your eyes can see the movement around you out the window.

Some people experience success by using "travel bands" - I'm not familiar if there is any real science behind them though.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:21 PM on August 15, 2010


I trained myself into it. I had the ability when I was a kid, then lost it for several years (because I never had to do it), and then regained it. When I was commuting via public transit to work every day, I'd start by reading for a few minutes and then stopping when I starting feeling sick. When the sick feeling went away, I'd start reading again. After a week or so, I could read as long as the trip lasted (and beyond - I missed my stop more than once) without feeling sick.

Except. If the train/bus was too hot, or if there was a very smelly person near me - then I just endured. Or changed cars/buses.

Hi! Miss you!
posted by rtha at 12:26 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Travel bands might help..
posted by MuffinMan at 12:28 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get this too and it always bugged me because when I was a kid I had my nose in a book every single car trip, but if I try to read in the car now I'm instantly sick. Once I thought about it I realized the shift occurred when I started wearing contacts (before that I wore glasses). Could it be something with your eyesight/eyesight correction method?
posted by flex at 12:31 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your brain can't handle processing the conflict between what what vision is telling you about how much you're moving through space (which is technically incorrect), and what your inner ear is telling you about what's happening to your body in space. The brain cannot reconcile the two inputs, so it just goes into 'system fail' mode, and gives you a lot of uncomfortable signals that translate to 'lie down and don't move because something is very wrong and you shouldn't do anything extreme right now.'

Imagine if it could automatically override and say 'whatevs, this will be fine' any time there was a major conflict in sensory input. Outside of generally artificial situations, you would get killed or seriously injured pretty quickly.

You can adjust, but just like seasickness, the amount you can learn to compensate for the discrepancy is individual.

(The reverse happens in Meniere's disease, where the 'wrong' information is originating from the inner ear. Endogenously generated in that case, though.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:43 PM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am easily prone to motion-sickness, but a long bus commute helped me figure out that I could read as much as I wanted as long as I held the book up at eye level. It's when I'm looking down reading that I get really nauseous.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:43 PM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do you get migraines? Migraineurs are more prone to motion sickness and vertigo.

(I found this out first-hand this summer, when vitamin D issues gave me a vicious bout of inner ear bullshit. My neuro was very sympathetic and prescribed a bunch of supplements and vestibular testing.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:46 PM on August 15, 2010


Another example is the experimental goggles that flip images so a 'right-side up' image is projected onto the retina. (The lens of the eye inverts the image of a given object on the retina. Your brain has to teach itself that 'upside-down' means 'right-side up.')

IIRC, it takes a few days to 'see' objects as right-side up through these goggles, but people learn. The adjustment period is a bit rocky and filled with motion sickness, though. And then they get to do it all over again when they take the glasses off.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2010


In my experience, opening a window has helped. I guess maybe the feeling of the air hitting me helps reinforce what my brain is getting from the inner ear and helps to "override" the visual input... that's just the idle speculation of someone who doesn't have a clue, though.
posted by Golfhaus at 12:49 PM on August 15, 2010


Oh, and as to changing over time: kids are both more and less prone to motion sickness/these kinds of discrepancies because their vestibular systems aren't mature, and their general ability to integrate sensory information as a whole is less developed. Depending on the individual child and where s/he is developmentally, the kid will be either less sensitive to moments when things don't compute or much more.

Plus, overall kids' brains are significantly quicker to adjust to change. So at noon a kid could be horking over the side, and by dinner have fabulous sea legs and run up and down the deck, while his/her parents are just vaguely nauseated, headache-y and uncomfortable.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 12:58 PM on August 15, 2010


Your brain can't handle processing the conflict between what what vision is telling you about how much you're moving through space (which is technically incorrect), and what your inner ear is telling you about what's happening to your body in space. The brain cannot reconcile the two inputs, so it just goes into 'system fail' mode, and gives you a lot of uncomfortable signals that translate to 'lie down and don't move because something is very wrong and you shouldn't do anything extreme right now.'

This is indeed the physiology behind what's happening. It happens to a lot of people - I often get motion sickness when I try to read in a car or bus (trains or subways, though, are okay, and not-reading in a car I'm fine).

I've found, though, that if I keep the physiology in mind, I've been able to work around it for short trips. My commute now involves a half-hour leg that's by bus in the evenings, and I've managed to read a bit on the bus sometimes -- I've found a half hour is usually a little too short for the nausea to set in, and I make a point of looking up and out the window now and then for a few moments to give my eyes that sensory input of "oh, that's right, I am in motion".

It may be worth a try on the shorter trips.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:04 PM on August 15, 2010


I find it helps to be facing forward, and to slouch enough that I can't see the scenery whipping by out the window. Sometimes I pull my hat brim low and to the side to cover the view of the world outside the vehicle.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:27 PM on August 15, 2010


Taking my cue from flex's very interesting observation, of having no motion sickness prior to getting contacts, I looked for indications that blocking peripheral vision would prevent motion sickness.

And found this patent, among other things:

What is claimed is:

1. A method for preventing motion sickness comprising:

confining the vision of a person susceptible to motion sickness to block out any peripheral visual information indicative of motion.


Not getting it on airplanes is consistent with this, since very little peripheral vision of external motion is available.

I'd try untinted bicycle goggles with black wind blockers which block peripheral vision as a side effect.
posted by jamjam at 1:43 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Accept defeat, acquire audiobooks. This is the only thing that has worked for me.
posted by Coobeastie at 1:45 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I trained myself to overcome it as a child by just remembering to look out of the window every couple of pages. This accords with the "your brain can't handle the discrepancy between your eyes and inner ears" thing.

It may not work very well on subway-type trains where there's nothing to see out of the window for long periods, but it certainly works in cars and regular trains.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:12 PM on August 15, 2010


If you would be happy with just extending the amount of time you can read without getting that nauseous feeling (I can go about 10 minutes or so on the bus before I have to stop reading), you should really try ginger candies or ginger chews. Ginger has been shown to be really effective at combating nausea and dizziness/motion sickness. It has helped me out before when nothing else would.

(I am usually incredible skeptical of 'natural remedies'. Anecdotaly, I feel like ginger really, truly works.)
posted by folara at 2:12 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I commuted 90 minutes by bus for a while I was able to overcome my non-ability to read in a vehicle. Day 1 - read for 5 minutes. Day 2 - 10 minutes, etc. It only took 7-10 days before I was able to read comfortably on the bus.
posted by COD at 2:15 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]



Not getting it on airplanes is consistent with this, since very little peripheral vision of external motion is available.

I'd try untinted bicycle goggles with black wind blockers which block peripheral vision as a side effect.


This is backwards. Looking out at the scenery makes carsickness better. You get sick when you're reading because it keeps you from looking out the window. The blinders you're suggesting would, if anything, make carsickness worse.

(The reason most people don't get carsick on airplanes is that you don't feel like you're moving on a cruising airplane. There's not much turning, not much speeding up or slowing down, no "bumps in the road." On a turbulent flight, where you can feel the plane moving around, people do indeed get sick — which is what the little barf bags are for.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:26 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Your brain can't handle processing the conflict between what what vision is telling you about how much you're moving through space (which is technically incorrect), and what your inner ear is telling you about what's happening to your body in space. The brain cannot reconcile the two inputs, so it just goes into 'system fail' mode, and gives you a lot of uncomfortable signals that translate to 'lie down and don't move because something is very wrong and you shouldn't do anything extreme right now.' "

I wonder if this is also why some people get terrible jet-lag whereas others don't? I've flown across twelve time zones with zero jet-lag but the woman I was with was a mess (ex girlfriend). For me, the trick was to tell myself it was midnight when I stepped onto the international flight even though it was really noon. I just accepted that it was midnight and tried to fall asleep (since it was, in my mind, the middle of the night instead of early afternoon). It took my ex a few days to adjust to the new time zone. I had no problem whatsoever.

I mention this because... maybe there's a chance you can think your way through it? Figure out what you need to alter in your head and act accordingly, somehow? ...?

Here's another thought: When you read, do you close down the world around you? I can easily read in a moving vehicle, but I'm also very aware of everything going on around me. In this case, I have trouble shutting off the world around me when I dive into a book. Could it be that you let yourself get too immersed in the 'reading world'?
posted by 2oh1 at 4:15 PM on August 15, 2010


Have you ever had inner ear issues? When I was a child I had persistent severe ear infections and gradual hearing loss. I got terrible motion sickness very easily and couldn't even think about reading in a car. I later had Tympanostomy tubes inserted in both ears and immediately after had zero motion sickness. I could read for extended periods in cars with no issues.

Years later (now in my mid-twenties) I'm beginning to develop ear problems again, and the motion sickness (although much more mild) and inability to read in cars has returned.

TL;DR: Get your ears checked.
posted by Capa at 4:51 PM on August 15, 2010


You can get ginger pills pretty cheaply, but since you said no pills, how about trying ginger candy?
posted by bink at 5:40 PM on August 15, 2010


It helps to get older. Like over 50. That's my experience.
posted by Alizaria at 6:19 PM on August 15, 2010


Hey, I'm on the bus! (looks around frequently) I think it's working. Thanks, everybody!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:20 PM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


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