Why Reading in the Back Seat Makes Some People Feel Sick
Thu, April 22, 2021

Why Reading in the Back Seat Makes Some People Feel Sick

Motion sickness is a condition characterized by a feeling of unwellness that may happen while in a moving car, train, bus, boat, or plane. It can also occur in virtual reality experiences and amusement rides / Photo by: Daniel Jdzura via 123RF


Motion sickness is a condition characterized by a feeling of unwellness that may happen while in a moving car, train, bus, boat, or plane. It can also occur in virtual reality experiences and amusement rides. Although it is not a life-threatening condition, it makes traveling unpleasant and usual symptoms include sweating, pale skin, and dizziness. Some even experience nausea and vomiting, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

Nausea while reading in the car

There are also some people, especially kids, who feel sick while reading in the backseat of a moving car. According to Wayne Wilson, an Associate Professor in Audiology at the University of Queensland, it happens when the eyes are telling the brain that the person is still but the ears feel that the car is already moving. Thus, the ears are sending a different message to the brain.

There are three main parts of the ears: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. It is the inner ear that helps us with our balance, the professor said. This part of the ear contains cells that contain hair cells. Some of these cells are designed to help us hear the moment a sound hits them. The hairs will move and the cells will send the signals to the brain. This is why our ears can tell if we are moving. So, when the car moves, the hair cells in the inner ear also move.

The conflicting signals between the eyes and the ears

When eyes and ears conflict, some people’s brains think that something unpleasant is about to happen. Thus, it prepares the body in a flight or fight response. It is our body’s physiological reaction that happens as a response to a perceived dangerous or harmful attack or event, helpful in survival. It prepares the body either to stay and fight or to quickly flee. In this physiological reaction, the brain takes blood from the stomach and then sends it to the muscles to help the body run away or fight. This process makes some people feel sick.

Solution to carsickness

Professor Wilson said that to address this problem, one must solve the argument that is happening between the ears and the eyes. Stop reading and look at your surroundings as your eyes will tell your brain that there is movement. The ears will send the same signal to the brain that the car is moving. The professor, however, said that the solution won’t work for everyone because the muscles and skin also help us with the balance, creating many possible arguments that the brain still has to settle.

The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that some people get motion sick by not getting enough air in the car. To relieve or prevent the symptoms, the front passenger seat would be the best car seat. If they are traveling by air, choose the seat over the wing. If traveling by sea, sit in the midpoint of the boat. The seats that have fewer bumps in the train are those facing forward and near a window because the horizon is visible. Medicines are also effective for those who have mild motion sickness. Aside from seat selection, planning your diet and getting enough rest would also help.

Northwestern University Medical School’s professor of neurology, otolaryngology, and physical therapy/human movement science Timothy C. Hain previously shared the same thought on the cause of motion sickness. He said via magazine Scientific American that the brain combines information from various sources, including the inner ear, joint position, touch, and sight. The eyes are fixed on the book but the peripheral vision is also seeing the movement or the car’s interior.

Motion sickness and young readers: statistics

About 1 in 3 people are highly susceptible to motion sickness, the US National Library of Medicine data shows. Yet, almost everyone can experience it if the motion is intense enough. The condition is also more common in women, especially during pregnancy or menstruation, compared to men. It is also more common in kids than in adults. Those who have a higher risk of motion sickness are people with migraines and a balance disorder.

Meanwhile, a study of young American readers shows that the number of children in the US who say that they love reading books for fun has declined to almost 10%. Out of the 2,558 US parents and kids surveyed by the children’s publisher Scholastic, only 51% of kids said they like or love reading books for pleasure. Researchers explained that the decline happens after kids reach the age of eight. The figures are detailed as follows: children 6-8 years old (68% enjoys reading for fun), 9-11 years old (46%), 12-14 years old (49%), and 15-17 years old (46%).

In an attempt to find out what makes a child or person a frequent reader, Scholastic likewise surveyed the parents of kids between zero and five. They found that a six- to 11-year-old kid is more likely to become a frequent reader if they are read aloud to before they start nursery until they reach five years old and if they are less likely to use the computer for gaming or fun. Francie Alexander, who is the chief academic officer of Scholastic, said that providing time and encouragement at home and school for kids of all ages will help them enjoy reading books and will help know both the joy and power of reading. As a result, it will enhance their skills and will pave the way for many possibilities for them as they grow older.

As of June 2019, 53% of millennials, 45% Gen-X, 43% baby boomers, and 36% silent generation are readers, a study from the market research company NPD Book indicates.

Encouraging good reading habits in kids is recommended, but it is also important for parents to take care of their child’s vision and health in general. If they feel motion sick while reading in the car, Professor Wilson’s suggestion is a great help. When he or she is in good health, there is a higher chance he or she will also perform better at school and other recreational activities.