Should You Read in a Moving Car? [Can It Hurt Your Eyes!]

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Sometimes people wonder whether it is a good habit to read while traveling in a  vehicle. Can it cause any permanent problems and what is the effect on your eyes? 

Reading while traveling is a great way to spend your time. And no, it will not have long-term implications on your health or eyes. However, you might suffer from temporary motion sickness. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how reading in a moving vehicle might affect you and if you’re affected with motion sickness, what can you do to relieve the symptoms.

Is It Good to Read in a Moving Car?

Doctors agree that although reading in a moving car can make some people feel bad, it is not really bad for your health. There are no long-term implications.

Perhaps you are one of the lucky people who never feel bad or sick when reading in a moving vehicle, but even if you are one of the unfortunate people who gets sick when reading in a car, you can rest assured that it will not have a long-lasting effect on you. 

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Effects of Reading in a Moving Vehicle

Let’s have a look at the most common ways reading in a moving vehicle might affect you.

1. Motion Sickness

The main reason why some people get sick while reading in a moving car is that the inner ear and body perceive motion, but your vision is fixed on something that is not moving.

This is called vertigo. One definition of vertigo is that it is the sense of movement of yourself or your surroundings when there is none.

So it is not only when you are reading a book that you may get motion sickness, but it happens when you focus on any object like a tablet or your phone. 

A person’s balance center always receives visual input, a sense of position called proprioception, and input from the inner ear which measures movement. When these inputs are not in sync, a person can have any or all of the following symptoms:

  1. Queasiness
  2. Cold sweats
  3. Dizziness
  4. Nausea
  5. Vomiting

 2. Headache

Some people only get a headache when reading in a moving car. To prevent the headache to become worse, put down what you are reading when you feel you are developing a headache.

I’ve written a detailed article on why reading causes a headache. If you are experiencing a headache due to reading, make sure you check out that article!

If you keep on reading your headache can escalate and even makes it impossible for you to understand what you are reading.  

3. Damage to the Eyesight (Long Term Effect)

While reading can affect your eyesight even in normal situations, reading in a moving vehicle can especially cause eye strain as the eye has to work hard to focus on the moving book or reading device.

Strained eyes can frequently lead to a headache or dizziness. Eye strain is a result of the muscles in your eyes becoming fatigued. 

The good news is that eye strain is a temporary condition. 

Some Symptoms of Strained Eyes

Apart from headaches and dizziness other symptoms that can be caused by eye strain include things like dry eyes, blurry vision, eye twitches, and back, neck, or shoulder pain. 

To relieve these symptoms you have to stop reading in the car and rest your eyes. 

Some Reasons for Strained Eyes

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

There are several reasons why reading in a car can cause eye strain, while you never experience it when you’re reading at home. 

Unless the car’s windows are tinted, the exposure to bright light or glare is more inside a car than outside.

When you read in a car you are also most likely more exposed to bright sunlight than when you are reading in a room. Too bright light can strain your eyes. Your eyes try to block some of the bright light by squinting more than usual.  This puts strain on your eyes.

Also, remember that reading on a digital screen for too long can cause digital eye strain even if you’re not traveling. 

When traveling the light patterns are also continuously changing and especially when you read on a screen, the changing patterns put more strain on your eyes. 

Whether you read print or on a screen the movement of the car, train, or plane causes the book or device to shake, especially on a bumpy road or during turbulences. The constant motion of text in a vehicle makes your eyes work even harder to focus.

How to Read in a Moving Vehicle

If you are in a vehicle with a lot of space like a train or boat, try to find a quiet space to read. Try to exclude all possible distractions.

In a smaller vehicle, like a plane or a bus, it may be harder to find a “special” place, but try to get a seat in the middle of the bus or near the wings of an airplane. There are less vibration and a sense of moving in the middle of a bus or a plane. 

Whether you are in a car or a larger vehicle, get as comfortable as possible. As your space is limited, especially in a car,  it is important for reading to sit comfortably. Ensure that your seat is adjusted to give you enough legroom. 

And if possible, lean against the car door or on the seat next to you. Remember, an uncomfortable position will hinder your reading.

If you’re sitting in a position that’s causing you pain or discomfort, you might be more likely to develop vertigo or headaches and back and neck pain. If possible, rest your book against something, and if it is not possible hold your book firmly.

You can steady your arm by leaning it against the window or car door. Also,  if the print is not too small you can try to rest the book or device in your lap or on the seat next to you.

The key to reading in a moving vehicle and enjoying it is to know when to stop. When the road (or flight) becomes too bumpy or the glare is too much, stop reading until the bumps or turbulences are over.

Also, stop reading and rest your eyes when you feel you are developing a headache or any of the symptoms of vertigo. 

Tips to Prevent Motion Sickness from Reading in a Moving Car

If you know you are prone to motion sickness you can plan and prepare for your trip ahead of time to avoid any issues. Fortunately, there are a few things that can help prevent motion sickness.

Here are a few tips that you can follow –

  1. Always keep some food and water with you and take a sip of water every now and then. If you are hydrated the chances for vertigo are smaller.  Without enough water, you could easily become nauseated or dizzy.  
  2. Light snacks that don’t irritate your digestive system will also help to settle your stomach and get you comfortable again. Apples, pretzels, and carrots are excellent to take along and eat while traveling. Don’t eat heavy foods as this can lead to nausea. 
  3. Avoid traveling on either an empty or too full stomach. Also, stay away from a lot of alcohol, fatty foods, or foods that tend to irritate your stomach before you travel. 
  4. Avoid seeing outside a moving car – Many people who suffer from motion sickness have found that when they slouch in their seats and sit down as low as possible in the seat it is easier to hold the book at eye level. It is good to keep your line of sight out of the window on the same level as the line of sight toward the book.
  5. Take the front seat – In a car, it is better to sit in the front seat, facing forward. Passengers in the backseats of a car tend to experience vertigo more frequently than passengers in a front seat. When traveling by train, sit so that you face the direction that the train is traveling. This prevents you from seeing any backward motion when the train starts moving.
  6. Use curtain or shades to cover your peripheral vision – If it is possible cover your peripheral vision. If you use your hand, a curtain or a sunshade to block your side vision the chances are good that you will not suffer from vertigo. If you are on a plane, close the window screen when you are reading.
  7. On a ship, you can go beneath the deck and sit as near to the center as possible. In other words, always try and experience the least amount of movement when you’re reading. 
  8. Turn your back to the window – If you can’t close off the window, you can turn your back to the window.  This will stop your peripheral vision to register movement. 
  9. Gain access to fresh air – Always try to sit where you have access to fresh air. It may be through an open window or via the vehicle’s AC system. 
  10. Prioritize traveling at night – People tend to suffer less from vertigo if they travel by night and then read while traveling. When it is dark outside it is difficult to see out of the windows and if you can’t see the “outside world” moving past you are less likely to get motion sickness.
  11. Use anti-nausea bands – Some people find the use of anti-nausea acupressure bands like this one [on Amazon] as a way to lessen the chances of motion sickness. You can wear the acupressure wristbands while on a long journey. The bands put pressure on the inner point of your wrist and this can stop uncomfortable sensations of motion sickness. 
  12. Take breaks and get out of the vehicle – If possible, take breaks and get out of the bus or car from time to time. Stretching your legs will help.  During the break take time and drink some cold water. If your long train or bus ride allows opportunities for short breaks, take advantage of these stops. It is good to put your feet on solid ground for a few minutes.
  13. Take medication – Several medications are available to help you not to be affected by vertigo. Generally, you have to take the medicine 30 to 60 minutes before traveling. But as with most medication, there might be side effects. Thus, use medication as a last resort. 

What to Do When You Feel Sick From Reading in a Moving Car

If you are feeling sick from reading while in a car, there are a few things that you can do immediately –

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply and get fresh air. This will help calm your stomach. If possible, make sure that you can get some fresh air – not AC air. 
  2. If in a car, you can open the window enabling you to take slow, deep breaths of fresh air.
  3. If you’re on a ship, move to the outdoor areas.
  4. On a train, it is normally not possible to get fresh air if you’re underground. But if the windows can open manually, open the windows when you are above ground. 
  5. If it is safe and allowed on the train you’re traveling, go to the space between the cars for more breathing room.
  6. On an aeroplane, try to go to the space in the back where the food is kept. It is less stuffy back there and you will get more air to breathe. 
  7. If you can’t get out of your seat or get out of the car, close your eyes and lean back. This shuts out the movement and gives your body a rest. 
  8. Try to relax and take a nap.
  9. It is always a good idea to regularly look up from what you are reading. You will then regain your visual perspective of motion. 
  10. Eat ginger. Though its efficacy is still debated by doctors, studies have found that ginger can be effective against nausea and vomiting. If you feel nauseated while in the moving vehicle, try chewing on a piece of raw ginger or sucking on ginger candy.

Can Reading on a Phone in a Moving Car Damage Your Eyes?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Many “phone addicts” wonder whether reading on their phones while traveling in a car can damage their eyes permanently. The short answer is “no.” 

Reading on a phone while traveling in a car is not more damaging than reading on your phone at home. Reading on your phone when in a moving vehicle cannot damage your eyes permanently.

You may however suffer from the “normal” effects of reading on a phone like strained eyes, too much blinking, dry eyes, and headaches. 

Please remember that when we refer to reading in a vehicle – whether it is printed matter or on your phone – we are never referring to the driver of the vehicle! You may only read in a moving vehicle if you are a passenger.

About the Author

Akansha is a former business journalist and a seasoned communications professional. She is the founder of TheBookBuff, an avid storyteller, and a lifelong biblophile! Check out her profile page to know more about Akansha.

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