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Cyber Sickness? Why Computer Screens Can Cause Nausea

Woman using computer screen cyber sickness

Nausea from computer screens is real. Experts are calling it 'cyber sickness'.

Have you ever been scrolling through your Instagram newsfeed and started feeling nauseous?

Or maybe you were switching between screens and you started feeling dizzy.

If you regularly get any of the following symptoms when you work with screens, then you may be affected by cyber sickness:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • General discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Apathy

What is cyber sickness?

Cyber sickness is a technology-induced version of motion sickness caused by moving content on screens.

But there's a difference.

With motion sickness you feel ill because you feel movement in your muscles and your inner ear but don't see it.

With digital sickness it's the opposite. You see movement on the screen but you don’t feel it.

We now use screens very frequently in our daily lives. So while cyber sickness may seem minor, it can cause recurring problems for your productivity and wellbeing.

Experts estimate that around 50 - 80 percent of people are affected by nausea from computer screens (depending on the type and format of screen content). So you're probably not the only person you know who needs relief.

The science behind why computer screens can make you feel nauseous

man looking at smartphone

Through the day, your body gets lots of sensory input that helps your brain figure out where you are in relation to your surroundings.

With motion sickness or cyber sickness, your eyes see moving images and signal to the brain that movement is happening.

When you're focusing on the screen, your brain can suffer from the cognitive dissonance of seeing movement while the rest of your body is relatively still.

Videos, animated graphics or even just scrolling through your Instagram feed can all contribute to the effect. 

As a result, your inner ear and other receptors in your body don't get much other feedback that this movement is taking place - and your central nervous system gets conflicting messages.

This can cause a physical stress response from your brain because it's not sure which message to believe.

It can be especially disorientating for people who are already prone to motion sickness.

Cyriel Diels, a cognitive psychologist and human factors researcher at Coventry University’s Centre for Mobility and Transport, told the New York Times: "It's a fundamental problem that’s kind of been swept under the carpet in the tech industry. It’s a natural response to an unnatural environment."

How can I prevent cyber sickness?

1. Take breaks

A good cure for motion sickness at sea is to stare at the horizon. The idea is that your eyes see the motion that your body is feeling, which helps quell the dizziness.

With digital motion sickness, you want to let your brain realise that you are not actually moving. If you begin feeling nauseous, try staring at a fixed point for a short period of time. Either through the window or on the wall should be good enough to signal to your brain that you are stationary.

The 20-20-20 rule can be a good way to remind you to take regular breaks.

Try going for a walk in the fresh air to increase your oxygen intake. This may also help to reduce feelings of nausea. 

2. Chew gum

The repetitive motion of chewing gum may help to relieve the symptoms of cyber sickness. Keeping your jaw active can help your brain make sense of the conflicting signals between vision and balance.

3. Take deeper breaths

When we use screens we tend to take shallow breaths - also known as screen apnea. Lack of oxygen can leave you feeling lightheaded and can lead to symptoms of cyber sickness.

If you start feeling nauseous, try taking deep, controlled breaths. This will help to ensure you are getting enough oxygen.