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What is cyber sickness?

What is cyber sickness?

With so much of the population working from home and being educated virtually, people are continuing to spend hours in front of screens every day.

As a result of this screen time, adults and children alike may be feeling the effects of cyber sickness, a technologically induced version of motion sickness.

The phrase has been researched in relation to virtual reality but also can be experienced from spending an extended period of time looking at screens for a variety of reasons.

Symptoms of cyber sickness can include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Needing to urinate more often
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Feeling wobbly, imbalanced or unstable

What’s happening in your body?

Prolonged screen time can confuse your brain about whether or not you are moving. The visual message from your eyes does not match your inner ear and other receptors in your body that signal to your central nervous system movement is taking place. Cyber sickness is more common in individuals prone to motion sickness.

Children experience cyber sickness, too

With remote learning currently replacing in-person educating, parents are reporting that some students are experiencing cyber sickness. Recent recommendations from the Illinois State Board of Education recommend learning occur using “a mix of real-time, flexibly timed, technological and non-technological options that avoids penalizing students for their choice.”

What you can do to alleviate symptoms?

  • Reduce recreational screen time
  • Switch to audio conference calls instead of virtual ones when possible
  • Multitask. Spend a few minutes on your screens and then switch to something non-digital. Repeat.
  • Take short breaks to rest your eyes.
  • Close your eyes or focus on something “solid” like the straight edge of your desk.
  • Go old school. Get the hard copy of the book you need instead of the electronic one, or print out some of the documents you need for the day. Take longhand notes as you work.
  • Try lemon and ginger to ease nausea.
  • Try over-the-counter motion sickness medication.
  • Turn off screen notifications/pop-ups that can pull your eyes to them.
  • Use your arrow keys instead of your mouse. This forces you to slow down the rate at which the visual data in front of you moves.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Students having difficulties can be provided with alternative choices and accommodations (ie., copies of textbooks).

Kathy Malyszko is a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health counselor at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

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About the Author

Kathryn Malyszko
Kathryn Malyszko

Kathy Malyszko is a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health counselor at Advocate Children's Hospital.