Seasickness and Science
Are your 'sea legs' in your brain or your muscles?
Posted on 11.01.2017
There’s nothing like the joy of being in a boat on the open sea — fresh air, wind in your hair and… oh wait, the overwhelming urge to throw up …
Sea travel predates the written word and for millennia our ancestors have suffered the ignominy of seasickness. Even the great Charles Darwin was afflicted by it on The Beagle.
Scientists generally agree the best defence against seasickness is the ability to adapt to the motion of a boat or a ship — this is also known as getting your ‘sea legs’.
But there is debate about how we do this.
According to one school of thought it’s about your brain learning how to predict body movement in the new environment, but others argue it’s about learning how to keep an upright posture.
Conflict challenges the brain
“When standing on two legs, keeping balance is an art,” said Dr Jelte Bos, of the Dutch Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.
As you start to lose your balance your eyes, inner ears, and other parts of the sensory system alert your brain, which then tells your muscles and joints to take action to keep you upright.
But there is a limit to how fast our nerves can carry information to and from the brain, so our brains must learn a capacity to predict how our movement affects our balance, said Dr Bos.
Our brains learn this predictive power when we are toddlers, but this tends to happen on solid ground.
Boats move in a very complicated way. They don’t just pitch and roll, but make other movements called yaw, sway, surge and — appropriately — heave.
Have a story to tell or news to share?
Let us know by Submitting a News Story