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A little too much holiday cheer? Explaining the bed spins

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

Monday, Jan. 6, 2020

Picture this: You have a few drinks, maybe one too many, then you lie down and it feels like the bed is spinning. Sounds familiar? Believe it or not, this sensation is caused by your inner ears.

But how does this work? Let’s break down what’s happening in your body in that moment.

The cupula

The inner ears contain fluid-filled tubes. Each ear also has a tiny bundle of hairs designed to detect fluid movement in the tubes when you move your head. When this bundle of hairs (the cupula) is deflected, it sends a signal to the brain, telling it that you’re turning.

Under normal circumstances, the cupula has the same relative density as the surrounding fluid, so it doesn’t respond to gravity, only to fluid movement created when you move your head. However, if you’ve had too much alcohol, it’s a different story!

The alcohol diffuses into, and eventually out of, the cupula at a different rate than it does in the surrounding fluid. For a period of time, it is either heavier or lighter than the fluid around it.  During this time, the cupula is sensitive to gravity. Depending on how your head is oriented, gravity will be deflecting the cupulas, making them tell the brain you’re turning even though you aren’t!

It will also make your eyes move so that it looks like the room is turning as well. Very unpleasant (or so I’ve heard).

When to consult a vestibular therapist

This simple experience can help you understand the type of problems people with vestibular disorders struggle with. These problems can involve incorrect signals coming to the brain from the inner ear(s) similar to what I’ve described above.

If you have dizziness or balance issues unrelated to a few too many drinks, consult one of Lifemark’s vestibular therapists for an evaluation to see if the inner ear is involved. Vestibular Rehabilitation is a highly effective, proven treatment for many different types of dizziness and balance disorders.

To schedule an appointment with a Lifemark vestibular therapist, check out our Locations page to find a clinic near you or book online. For more information about our vestibular rehabilitation program, you can also consult our website.

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

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