Spinning to Cambodia!

By Dirk Hanson 04/02/11
Surving the waves of one too many.
Photo via guywithcamera

You suffered through a long night of hard drinking, and now you’re gingerly heading to bed—if only the walls weren’t spinning like a carousel on crack. As it turns out, it’s not your head that’s spinning—the problem is in your ears. As your body moves through space, hair cells in the inner ear respond to slight changes in gravity by firing electrical signals to neurons in the brain responsible for motion perception. As alcohol is eliminated from the body, the alcohol in the inner ear cells produces a change in fluid density. This pushes on the the hair cells, overstimulates the vestibular system, and sends a signal to your brain that says: "rotary acceleration now underway." The result is classic motion sickness: “bedspins,” and the dizziness and nausea that accompany that state. Turning the lights off doesn’t help either, as Rachel Nuwer of NYU’s Scienceline explains, “since you can no longer rely upon visual cues to counteract the false sense of motion.” Rumors that bedspins occur less frequently with gin and vodka than with whiskey and wine remain largely unconfirmed by science, but are currently under active investigation by frat boys at Duke.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]