If you’ve ever consulted with a TCM practitioner or an acupuncturist, you may have noticed that they ask about your daily routines, including your sleep, diet, work, exercise, and relaxation schedules. They may also ask you specific times that you do these activities. This is because they are trying to learn more about your Chinese Medicine organ clock. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ is associated with a two-hour interval within the 24-hour period of a full day. Referred to as the Chinese body clock, this concept relies on the idea that you can maximize your energy and specific organs when they are at their peak. Read on to learn more about the Chinese organ clock and learn how balance and imbalance often show up in our organs.
The Chinese body clock is built on the concept of qi, which is thought of in Chinese Medicine to describe energy. During each 24 hour period, qi is thought to move in 2-hour intervals throughout the organ systems. Each 2-hour interval is correlated to an organ, specifically when that organ is strongest (most active) and should be attended to and supported. Additionally, each organ or meridian in TCM is also associated with an emotion, so you may notice your emotions and thoughts corresponding to this Chinese medicine organ clock system as well.
Knowing all this information will help your TCM practitioner tailor their treatment accordingly. However, you may also find it helpful to know more about the Chinese organ clock and use it to learn more about your body and in your healing journey. As you learn more about your body’s—and your mind’s—needs, you can adapt to a schedule that is more in line with flow and more balanced. But don’t worry that you need to completely readjust your life: as you’ll see, the TCM body clock is pretty intuitive and in line with how we generally set up our lives.
Here is how the Chinese Medicine Organ Clock works:
3 – 5 AM: Lung
In TCM, the lungs correspond to grief and worry, so any irregularities during this time may relate to that. If you notice yourself waking up a lot between these hours, give yourself kindness and compassion and let the emotions flow through you. As these emotions are connected to our lungs, they may manifest in the body as short, shallow breathing or even breathlessness.
5 – 7 AM: Large Intestine
The large intestine, or bowel, is associated with bowel movements and excretion, and this is the time when your body naturally should want to do that. To promote bowel movements and bowel health, it is important to stay hydrated. Try drinking a large glass of warm water when you first wake up. According to TCM, the large intestine is also in charge of getting rid of negative emotions, so if you find yourself waking up and already dreading your day or with negative thought patterns, you may be “emotionally constipated.”
7 – 9 AM: Stomach
Eat breakfast! Your stomach is responsible for feeding all of your other organs so it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced and satiating meal in the morning. Since your stomach is warmth-loving, it is optimal to eat warm and cooked foods in the morning.
Additionally, the stomach is very affected by stress, which anyone who’s ever had a stomach ache before some stressful event can attest to. Work on your stress management through meditation, acupuncture, joyful movement, and eating nutritious meals.
9 – 11 AM: Spleen
The spleen in TCM is associated with digestion and nutrient absorption. If you often experience digestive issues in this time frame, you may have a spleen deficiency. Spleen deficiencies can be treated with acupuncture and diet modifications, but it’s important to also take a look at what you are doing during this time period. If you chug coffee, you may be inflaming your digestive system. If you have a lot of stress at work, you may be activating the sympathetic nervous system. Again, it is important to notice your patterns and make sure you are supporting your spleen at this time of day.
11 AM – 1 PM: Heart
The stomach is associated with the heart, and is considered the heart’s “child.” TCM World Foundation explains that “if the Stomach is functioning well then the mother, the Heart is happy or less impacted. In this simple analogy we understand thatStomach energy must be in balance for Heart energy to be balanced.” So keep the stomach happy to have a happy heart!
1 – 3 PM: Small Intestine
The small intestine is integral to digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, which makes sense after lunch—and breakfast earlier. This time period is when the small intestine is strongest, so if you are feeling any gastrointestinal discomfort or have loose stools or painful urination during this time, this is a sure sign of an imbalance in this area.
3 – 5 PM: Bladder
Our bladder removes water and byproducts filtered out by the kidneys from the body. To support the bladder’s function, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, especially in the time leading up to this period. The bladder is the yang organ to the kidney’s yin and sometimes kidney deficiencies or imbalances can be both detected and treated through the bladder.
5 – 7 PM: Kidney
The kidney supplies back-up energy (jing) to any organ that is low on qi, and repairs and supplies balance to the whole body system. The kidney also governs the reproductive functions of the body as well as our body’s fluids: water, tears, saliva, perspiration, etc. It’s great to have a light dinner during this timeframe, which helps to nourish the kidneys and their partner organ, the small intestine. There are a lot of seemingly unrelated symptoms that you may experience that are due to kidney deficiency, such as ear-related symptoms since they are the sensory organs associated with the kidneys. This can include deafness, tinnitus or ear infections. Or you may experience reduced libido; fatigue; excessive sweating; or even panic, anxiety or fear.
7 – 9 PM: Pericardium
The pericardium is literally a sac or membrane that surrounds the heart. In TCM, the pericardium is viewed as the heart protector, the drawbridge to the heart, letting relationships in or keeping them out, but also protecting against infection and disease. The pericardium also physically promotes circulation throughout our bodies. As such, this time frame is thought of as a good time to be physically intimate.
9 – 11 PM: San Jiao or Triple Burner
The triple burner, or San Jiao, is not an organ in the traditional sense, but it is a substance that exists between your muscles and your skin. It is a very important fire element that regulates circulation, body temperature and the movement and metabolism of fluids in the body. The San Jiao is the opposite time of the Spleen in the Chinese body clock system. During Spleen time (9-11 AM), it is the best time to do your work and expend the most energy of the day. By contrast, San Jiao is the best time to unwind and relax and go to bed, which helps the San Jiao’s role of regulating the body’s functions.
11 PM – 1 AM: Gallbladder
The gallbladder is the partner organ to the liver in TCM. It stores and secretes bile, which aids in the digestive process, and the gallbladder also controls the sinews of the body (tendons and ligaments). In TCM, the gallbladder is also closely related to our passions and dreams and the quality of our sleep. The gallbladder is also related to decision-making, so if you are super indecisive, this can be a sign of a gallbladder imbalance.
1 – 3 AM: Liver
The liver is very important in TCM, as it regulates the body’s qi and emotions, essentially ensuring the body’s homeostasis. As such, the liver is the organ most affected by stress or excess emotions. The eyes are the sensory organ connected with the liver, and in our screen-dependent world, it makes sense that liver deficiencies are increasingly common. A liver deficiency/imbalance may surface as irritability or anger, or as eye issues such as blurry vision or dry and itchy eyes. Rest is super important to allow the liver to function properly. To ensure you get adequate rest and sleep during this time frame (and all night), some of my suggestions include limiting alcohol consumption, making sure you stop drinking caffeine a few hours before bed (if not longer), turn off TV/computer screens at least 2 hours before bed, and maybe do some meditation or acupressure to help you ease into sleep.
How to apply the Chinese Body Clock To Your Life
While a TCM practitioner is trained to use the Chinese Medicine Organ Clock, you can also use this information to learn more about your body. Try to attune yourself to your body and your mind, notice how you are feeling and keep track of what you were feeling physically, and when it started. Check-in with yourself throughout the day: it might even be helpful to do a body scan and take notes on what comes up for you and when. Then you can refer back to the Chinese Medicine organ clock to see if you can make any connections.
If you experience symptoms at a certain time of day, this may mean that the organ associated with that time is having a qi blockage or imbalance. For instance if you are never hungry, or even feel nauseous, between 7 and 9 AM, this time interval is associated with the stomach and could mean that you have an imbalance in your stomach. Or if you are really stressed all the time and are waking up a lot between 1 and 3 AM, this is the time of the liver, and may be indicative of a liver imbalance. You can then share this information with your TCM practitioner and work together to find the best healing methods for you.
The Chinese Medicine Organ Clock is an interesting way to learn more about your body and make connections with some of your physical and emotional symptoms. If you want to learn more, feel free to Soho Acupuncture By Jen Becker for a personal consultation.
Want To Read More?