When movement makes you queasy: breathe in, breathe out

A breathing technique can help ease seasickness, research finds.
Written by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Inactive

Land, sea, air: I’ve battled motion sickness on all surfaces. So when I see any research that may help my fellow sufferers and me, I renew my faith that one day, I’ll be able to enjoy a boat or helicopter ride, queasy-free.

Earlier this year, I wrote in The Washington Post about the causes of motion sickness and some ways to prevent or temper it—ranging from where to sit on the plane to what not to eat before you set sail. I’d heard that deep breathing helps, and it’s helped me. But last week I read in ScienceNOW that it helps to time your breathing to counteract the nauseating motion because it can control gravity sensors in the abdomen—a factor in our balance system.

The article explains that World War II Navy seaman discovered that they could use breathing tricks to combat motion sickness. But until recently, breathing out of time with a motion hadn’t been tested. The results of the research appear in the December issue of Autonomic Neuroscience. ScienceNOW reports:

“Researchers from Imperial College London enlisted 26 volunteers to sit in a tilting, rocking flight simulator and coordinate their breathing in various ways with the motion. The tests lasted up to 30 minutes, or until subjects felt moderately sick. The natural tendency was for volunteers to inhale on every backward tilt, in rhythm with the rocking. But if the subjects exhaled on every backward tilt, they didn't get sick as quickly. They felt even better if they breathed slightly faster or slower than the cyclic heaving of the chair; using that technique, the time until onset of nausea was 50 percent longer than during normal breathing.”

We experience motion sickness because signals to the brain—from our vision, from the vestibular system of the inner ear and from sensory organs in the rest of our body—don’t match up. Apparently, the sensors in our abdomen send messages to our brain at a slower rate than the other sensors, and that time difference creates a mismatch of signals. So if the diaphragm opposes gravity-induced stomach motions with controlled breaths, there is less signal mismatching and less nausea.

It’s not a cure-all, and if you’re like me, I wouldn’t book a spot on the next Zero-G flight quite yet, but this finding is a step toward one day overcoming motion sickness. And that’s something that should make us all feel a little more stable.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards