If you just got back from your cruise vacation and are feeling unsteady on your feet, you may be wondering what's going on. Aren't so called "sea legs" a good thing that helps you adapt to motion caused by unstable water? Well, after spending several days - or even weeks - traveling on the ocean, your body has adapted and now it needs to adapt to life back on land again. This is the quick answer to why people feel like they are still swaying ... even after the cruise is over.
This is a real condition that can affect anyone after spending time on a boat or ship for an extended period of time. Symptoms include dizziness, motion sickness, and swaying. In this blog post, we will discuss what causes sea legs and how to stop swaying after a cruise!
What Does, "I've Found My Sea Legs" Mean?
The phrase, "I've found my sea legs" is often used to describe the process of getting used to the motion of being on a boat. It can take a few hours or even a day or two for your body to adjust. Once you have adjusted, you should be able to walk around without feeling like the room is spinning.
The term first became common among sailors in the early 1700's as a term specifically referring to new mariners and conscripted sailors whose bodies acclimated to long boat trips and life at sea so that they were able to work on deck with a good sense of balance despite the motion of these navel vessels as they sailed across rough seas. Later the term became associated more broadly with reference to other challenging tasks as a novice becomes comfortable with a complicated task.
While most people look at this merely as an adjustment to life at sea ... few people focus on the opposite, readjusting to life back on land. This is likely because these mariners were so glad to be back home that the phantom swaying sensation that they felt back on land was such a minor inconvenience that they didn't worry about it.
While life on a naval vessel is vastly different from a vacation on modern cruise ships, motion sickness from rough seas is a major concern for most new cruisers. Few of them consider the opposite concept, land sickness, much less refer to the process of finding their land legs again!
What Causes Motion Sickness On A Cruise?
There are a variety of things that can cause motion sickness on a cruise, but the most common is simply being in unfamiliar surroundings. The human body is amazing at adapting to new situations, but it does take some time. In both seasickness as well landsickness, the sensation is caused by a condition in which the inner ear and eyes are sending conflicting messages to the brain. This is sometimes referred to as the vestibulo-ocular reflex and it causes the symptoms of seasickness. Normally your brain and inner ear would be able operate in sync with each other but sometimes that just doesn't happen.
On a cruise ship, there are many potential sources of motion sickness:
- the constant motion of the ship or even the vibration from the ship's engine (even when it's not moving very fast)
- the size of the ship vs the motion of the waves (if you're in a rough sea, the ship will rock back and forth and smaller ships experience more profound motion compared to larger cruise ships)
- the relative movement of the distant horizon (despite calm seas, the gentle motion of the far off horizon going up and down vs the deck of the ship can be disorienting)
All of these factors can contribute to motion sickness, even for people who don't normally get seasick. It's important to remember that everyone is different and will react differently to these stimuli.
You can help avoid these unpleasant feelings by avoiding the top decks as well as areas all the way forward (such as an observation lounge or theater) or places in the aft (such as the buffet or main dining room). While each ship design is different, you can usually request accommodations such as sometimes there is a main dining room towards the middle of the ship instead of in the aft.
Luckily, most people are not affected badly by the movement of the ship and cruise lines are very good at charting routes that will avoid bad weather. Additionally, newer ships will experience less movement due to improvements such as stabilizers and innovative bow shapes. Additionally, there are many natural remedies for seasickness that have minimal side effects, such as green apples which can help neutralize stomach acid, sipping on some ginger ale or supplements that contain ginger or peppermint. For more acute instances, there are over the counter medications, motion sickness pills and acupressure wristbands help as well.
If you have concerns about motion sickness while at sea, make sure to work with your travel agent to select a good room location on a lower deck as well.
Why Do I Feel Like I'm Still Swaying After My Cruise?
If you are feeling like you're still swaying after your cruise, it's because your body has adapted to the motion of being on a boat. Just like it took time for your body to adjust to being on the water, it will take some time for your body to adjust back to life on land. This is perfectly normal and there is no need to be concerned. The best thing you can do is give yourself some time to readjust.
Like the feelings of seasickness, this is more commonly experienced among women due to a number of factors including the fact that Estrogen can contribute to feelings of motion sickness and this is often made worse by birth control pills that contain it as well as Estrogen supplements that are designed to help compensate for hormonal changes in middle-aged women.
How Long Does It Take To Readjust To Life On Land?
It usually takes a day or two for your body to readjust after being on a boat. For some people, it can take just a few minutes of walking around on dry land. However, if you are still feeling unsteady after a few days, it's best to consult with your doctor.
What Are Some Tips For Stopping The Swaying Sensation?
If you are looking for ways to stop the swaying sensation, there are a few things you can try. However, for most people, the swaying sensation will go away quickly in just a few days of being off the water. Luckily there are plenty of effective remedies that will work for most people. This can be confusing the first time it happens and first-time cruisers returning after long trips may experience a brief period of these symptoms but that doesn't make it any less surprising.
Here are a few tips for stopping the swaying sensation:
Get plenty of rest:
When you're well-rested, your body is better able to handle stress and adapt to change. Make sure to get a good night's sleep and take breaks during the day if you can.
Drink lots of fluids:
dehydration can make the symptoms of sea legs worse. Be sure to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol while you're readjusting.
Eat light meals:
Eating smaller, lighter meals will help minimize any nausea or dizziness you may be feeling.
Alcohol can dehydrate your body and make the symptoms of sea legs worse. Avoid drinking alcohol while you're readjusting to life on land.
If you're feeling nauseous, try to stay cool. Drink lots of fluids and take a cool shower or bath if you can.
Get fresh air:
Spending time outside in the fresh air can help minimize the symptoms of sea legs. Take a walk, go for a swim, or just sit outside for a while.
Do some light exercise:
Getting your body moving can help your body adjust more quickly. Try doing some light exercises like walking, swimming, or yoga. Consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
Avoid sudden movements:
Sudden movements can make the symptoms of sea legs worse. Avoid activities that require you to quickly change directions or stop and start.
While each person's physiology is unique, a combination of these methods to alleviate the swaying sensation will work for most people.
Mal De Débarquement Syndrome - When The Swaying Doesn't Go Away
Literally meaning, "disembarkation sickness", Mal de Débarquement Syndrome (MdDS) is a motion disorder that can occur after exposure to motion, such as being on a boat or ship. MdDS is less common than sea legs, but it can be more severe and long-lasting.
Symptoms of MdDS include:
- a feeling of continuous rocking or swaying, even when you're not in motion
- trouble sleeping
- difficulty concentrating
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to see your doctor. While there is no cure for MdDS, there are treatments that can help ease the symptoms.
Treatment options include: medication, vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT), and lifestyle changes. VRT is a type of physical therapy that can help retrain your brain to process motion differently. Lifestyle changes may include things like avoiding alcohol, getting plenty of rest, and eating light meals.
Some people that suffer from this notice that symptoms get worse throughout the day and is less noticeable when they first wake up. This has led to some medical experts believing that it may be tied to fatigue or stress at causes the vestibular system to get worse.
If you are still feeling unsteady after a few days, it's best to consult with your doctor. MdDS is a motion disorder that can occur after exposure to motion, such as being on a boat or ship. Symptoms of MdDS include: a feeling of continuous rocking or swaying, even when you're not in motion; fatigue; trouble sleeping; anxiety; depression; difficulty concentrating. While there is no cure for MdDS, there are treatments that can help alleviate symptoms.
The Good News Is Most Healthy Individuals Will Not Get Sea Sick
This is in part because the area where most cruise ships sail are usually calm waters such as the Caribbean. However, there are areas like the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Alaska, and even parts of Coastal California cruises that can have periods of rough seas due to weather or ocean currents. It is estimated that on a typical cruise, less than 15% of people experience motion sickness and even fewer experience a dizzy feeling once they return to land. While it is common to feel a swaying sensation after returning to solid ground, this is something that most people will only feel for a short time.
Despite that, swaying after returning from a cruise is a common concern for folks who may have just returned from their first cruise.
If you want to have the best chance of avoiding these sensations due to the motion of the ocean, make sure to do research before booking to select good cabin locations and avoid older ships as well as smaller cruise ships. While we love our small ship cruises, these vessels aren't the best place to be if you have fears of getting sea sickness.
Regardless though, this is why we also encourage our readers to work with a travel advisor. While they will not be able to provide specific medical advice they can help advise new cruisers with finding the right cabin and important tips like avoiding heavy drinking and eating on the first night as well as avoiding higher decks and the front of the ship until they've gotten their sea legs!