Overcoming motion sickness
July 26, 2005 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to read during my commute, but get motion sickness when I do. Any tips on overcoming this annoying malady?

I'm not commonly motion sick, but reading gets me every time. A search turned up only unhelpful information. I have a 30-minute bus commute, and would prefer to read a book rather than haul out the CD player loaded with audiobooks.
posted by frykitty to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Avoid milk products and juices with citric acid is advice I've been given.

(There's probably no medical basis for this, but if nothing else works...)

My brother would feel sick when reading in the car when h was younger. Once he continued to read until he eventually threw up. He's had absolutely no problem since.
posted by null terminated at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2005

This has some techniques that might help. (Deep breathing, biofeedback, chinese medicine options.) A lot of it seems to imply that the more often you do it (get through the motion sickness), the less it will bother you in the future.

I get the same thing, but I've found it's much better when I can sit facing forward (I'm pretty much immediately sick when I have to sit facing backward, and just kinda sick when I sit facing sideways). Is that an option?
posted by occhiblu at 7:53 AM on July 26, 2005

Best answer: This also has some good practical info, it seems. Their reading section has this:

Get caught up on your reading some other time. Don't read while you're riding in a car or on a rough plane or boat trip, says Dr. Tarnapolsky. The movement of the vehicle you're in makes the printed matter on the page move, which can make you awfully dizzy.

But if you must read, there are ways to do it without getting sick, says Dr. Gillilan. Among them:

Slouch down in the seat and hold the reading material close to eye level. "It's not the reading itself that makes you sick," he says, "but the angle at which you're doing it. When you look down while traveling in a car, the visible motion from the side windows strikes the eyes at an unusual angle, and that is what triggers symptoms. This method brings your eyes into the same position as if you were looking down the road."

Hold your hands next to your temples to block out the action or turn your back to the window nearest you.

(Googling ""motion sickness" reading" did seem to turn up a lot of info for me -- you might want to poke around there some more, too.)
posted by occhiblu at 7:56 AM on July 26, 2005

As noted before, I spent a couple of decades researching this subject. The nausea and vomiting are the body's way of dealing with potential food poisoning. (Even fish get motion sick!!) The brain assumes that if there is a disparity between vestibular (inner ear) signals and visual signals, then you probably consumed bad food containing a neuro-toxin, so it generates a reflex to get rid of it.

The disparity in your case is that the vestibular signals (organs of balance in the inner ear) are sensing the vehicle's motion, while your gaze is directed at a book which does not appear to move relative to your head.

A colleague of mine was the Deputy Surgeon General of the Royal Air Force. He conducted some very innovative research on how to help fighter pilots overcome motion sickness. He found that if you de-sensitized yourself to the stimulus, you could then perform with impunity.

In your case, it would work like this. Set up a graph showing time (in minutes) vertically as a function of day of the week. Each day you commute, read only until you have the first signs of stomach awareness or the slightest queasiness. At that point, stop reading immediately and note how long you were reading for. Graph that time. If you do this both ways, then average the times for that day. Be sure that you do not pick up the book again (after you have put it down) while on the same trip, since the recovery time takes longer than expected. Instead, look out the window, so that the vehicle motion matches what you see.

After a few weeks, your graph should show that the times before discomfort are getting longer, bit by bit. Within a few months, you will be able to read with impunity. The graphing is important, since you use that information as feedback about your progress.

By the way, as I recall, some 90% of the fighter pilots were able to perform aerobatics within 3 months and never complained of motion sickness again.
posted by RMALCOLM at 9:01 AM on July 26, 2005 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, occhiblu--my google-fu was apparently weak this morning. Though most of those just say "don't read". Heh.

I do face forward, so that's not a problem. I'll try the slouching thing if I can manage it in a bus seat.

I had thought about just slowly acclimatizing myself--it looks like that may be the best solution.
posted by frykitty at 9:07 AM on July 26, 2005

This visor looks totally goofy, but if you're desperate...
posted by occhiblu at 9:19 AM on July 26, 2005

I read a lot during my daily bus journeys to and from work. I never had any problems with motion sickness triggered by reading and I guess that it's one of those things that you must keep doing until you're used to.

What I think it's worth mentioning tough, is: it can damage your vision. I have an acquaintance who is an ophthalmologist. He once told me that due to my reading while in motion, I could have a problem with the retina that might require surgery. I don't know the correct name of it in English (in Portuguese, it would be "descolamento de retina").
posted by rexgregbr at 9:51 AM on July 26, 2005

If a CD player with audiobooks is too unwieldy, get a small MP3 player and load up on all the podcasts that are becoming available these days.
posted by randomstriker at 12:24 PM on July 26, 2005

RMALCOLM writes "The graphing is important, since you use that information as feedback about your progress."

Great advice/info, RMALCOLM, but I don't quite get the text that I quoted (above). How is the info used? It seems like you just stop each time as-soon-as you feel sick. The info won't tell you that you're feeling sick. Is the graph just to convince you that the technique is working?
posted by grumblebee at 2:20 PM on July 26, 2005

Response by poster: Is the graph just to convince you that the technique is working?

Yep (to butt in). The graph is the ultimate geek self-improvement tool, IMO, and the visible proof that you are doing better is extremely important.
posted by frykitty at 2:47 PM on July 26, 2005

Frykitty has it.
posted by RMALCOLM at 8:59 PM on July 26, 2005

Response by poster: I suspect no one will see this, but I'll say it anyway:

Thanks, occhiblu! The Spousal Unit and I have both tried the "scrunching down" method with success. I was surprised he even tried it, as he gets much more sick than I do.

This means a lot to both of us!
posted by frykitty at 9:20 PM on August 5, 2005

Hee. And you may never see my response, but I'm glad I could help!
posted by occhiblu at 9:23 AM on August 25, 2005

I have no idea if this device is actually worth the high cost, but I just saw this and had to include it here in case anyone else has any info on it. It's supposed to work by sending electrical signals to the brain to interrupt those that cause motion sickness. I wish I had one to test and share info on it.
posted by jldindc at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2006

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