What is the word used to describe that feeling you occasionally get while falling?

If you don't know the feeling, it feels like the midsection of your gut is becoming numb and is trying to escape out of the top of your ribcage.

Update: Unfortunately a single word for this feeling doesn't seem to exist. If this word doesn't exist, is there a short phrase used to describe this feeling?

Answer: There is no specific term for this. The closest phrase is in fact 'feeling of falling'. The answer which selected as correct and did state that there is not specific term for the feeling.

  • 4
    I can say that I don't know the feeling, and from your lovely description, I've decided that I don't ever want to.
    – user11550
    Nov 16, 2011 at 15:58
  • @Mahnax: It something you experience on roller-coasters when the car goes down a steep hill suddenly. Other midway and carnival rides with sudden changes in acceleration can produce the feeling. Also, if you're in an airplane and it experiences rough and sudden turbulence, you may get this sensation (but hopefully not as strong as a roller coaster would produce). Nov 16, 2011 at 16:22
  • @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oh... That fuzzy feeling?
    – user11550
    Nov 16, 2011 at 16:28
  • @Mahnax: Hmm... you see, I wouldn't have called that feeling "fuzzy" at all. Nov 16, 2011 at 16:30
  • @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Then I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about. Would you describe the feeling as unpleasant?
    – user11550
    Nov 16, 2011 at 16:35

5 Answers 5


The sensation you describe occurs when you're in free fall, as described on HowStuffWorks:

But in the "free-fall" state, there is hardly any net force acting on you. In this case, the various pieces of your body are not pushing on each other as much. They are all, essentially, weightless, each falling individually inside your body. This is what gives you that unique sinking feeling in your stomach.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a specific term for it. (Unless there's a really technical medical term that involves your vestibular system somehow.)

On the other hand, that falling sensation (and accompanying twitch) you sometimes get when you're falling asleep? That's a hypnagogic myoclonic twitch.

  • +1 - That was a lot of very interesting information. I guess there isn't one word for the feeling, though there should be. I'm going to modify my question to include phrases.
    – ChrisM
    Nov 16, 2011 at 18:37
  • 2
    And it you experience that sensation while falling asleep on the Concorde, it would be a supersonic hypnagogic myoclonic twitch. Nov 16, 2011 at 20:35
  • Falling (and feeling that acceleration) and free-fall (when there is no net acceleration) are two different things. Free-fall is entirely the wrong word for the sudden jerk when you start to fall (which I think is what the OP is after). Jan 19, 2012 at 19:16
  • @Pureferret OP: ""What is the word used to describe that feeling you occasionally get while falling? If you don't know the feeling, it feels like the midsection of your gut is becoming numb and is trying to escape out of the top of your ribcage." No, the "sudden jerk" (the hypnagogic myoclonic twitch, perhaps?) is not what the OP is after.
    – Gnawme
    Jan 19, 2012 at 19:30
  • I'd describe the sudden jerk as coming from my midsection making it go numb, and feel as though it's trying to escape. That's definitely what I feel. I'm not talking about the movement of the body due to acceleration, but the effect I feel on my stomach. Jan 19, 2012 at 19:33

I think Vertigo or Nausea are sometimes used to describe that sensation. I also sometimes see weightless being used for that sensation.

For roller-coasters, I'd say that the phrase "his stomach lept up into his mouth" to describe the sensation where it feels like your gut is moving up in your body (I've heard & seen this used before in this context). I don't know of a single word for this, although weightless might be close (but it's possible there are other sensations associated with that term aside from this one).

  • 4
    I don't think so. Vertigo is a feeling of spinning, and nausea is a feeling of impending vomiting.
    – Lynn
    Nov 16, 2011 at 15:40
  • Not really; both of those are definitely unpleasant and are feelings in your head. This feeling is in the gut and doesn't need to be unpleasant. I feel it's to get this feeling that people go on roller coasters.
    – ChrisM
    Nov 16, 2011 at 15:41
  • 1
    Even though it may not actually be correct usage, I have heard "vertigo" (though never "nausea") used to describe this feeling on occasion.
    – David Z
    Nov 17, 2011 at 22:36
  • Technically correct or not, I would describe any feeling of undesirable disruption to the vestibular system as vertigo -Wiki.
    – Mazura
    Dec 12, 2014 at 1:42

Perhaps "lurching"? It's not perfect, but the other ways I can think of to describe it are all multi-word.

Edit: when this happens I sometimes feel "queasy", but that feeling is not specific to this kind of stimulus.

What is actually happening is that different parts of your body are accelerating at speeds and in directions you're not used to; gravity is working against you. (This doesn't happen in weightless environments.)

  • Lurching is a good word for the roller coaster motion (lit, per M-W: "to roll or tip abruptly") but doesn't seem to quite fit the feeling that results. I guess it gets the point across though.
    – Lynn
    Nov 16, 2011 at 16:38
  • 1
    I usually associate lurching with the way that zombies walk, as well as shambling and shuffling. I guess I'd also apply lurching to the way a boat moves in rough waters. I'm not sure I'd use this to describe the sensation that the OP described, only the motion that caused the sensation. Nov 16, 2011 at 17:00
  • @Lynn, fair enough. When it happens to me I think of both the airplane and my innards lurching, but I don't know how common that is. Nov 16, 2011 at 17:02
  • @FWFD I agree, that's exactly what I was thinking
    – ChrisM
    Nov 16, 2011 at 17:46
  • @Monica I get the feeling on airplanes too! Especially in turbulence; I like the feeling though
    – ChrisM
    Nov 16, 2011 at 17:46

The closest existing terminology for this is 'feeling of falling'.

The other vocabulary for illusions of balance/movement feelings are: dizziness (a feeling of movement within the head), vertigo (a feeling of spinning, or that the room is spinning), and disequilibrium (the feeling of falling to one side).

The feeling you get that is the cause of a 'night start' ('hypnogogic jerk', like you're falling in a dream, or falling out of bed), or a psychological effect of anxiety (not an inner ear sensation but a psychological one) has no special technical term other than 'feeling of falling'.


There might be some special medical jargon for it (which I can't find), but I've never encountered a common-use term for the sensation. The sensation is caused by the force of the acceleration, sometimes termed G-force.

  • The sensation is caused by lack of strain within the vestibula (part of the ear), because all parts of the body are accelerating equally.
    – Ben Voigt
    Nov 17, 2011 at 23:39

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