Over thousands of years, traditional Chinese Medicine has given us insights into not just how our organs function, but how each of them impacts our spirit and emotions. If an organ isn’t working as well as it should be or isn’t in balance, it can affect physical well-being as well as how we relate to others and ourselves on an emotional level.
There are twelve organs in our body’s meridian system, and the Chinese Medicine Clock assigns each a two-hour time period in which they function at optimal levels. It can be used as a guide to understanding your energy cycle and matching daily activities to the qualities of each organ or time period to nurture your mind and body optimally.
5am to 7am: The large intestine
The large intestine is responsible for eliminating waste from the body. On an emotional level, it represents our ability to let go of the past and move forward. Between the hours of five and seven are the best time to wake up and start your morning routine. If you experience bouts of slow digestion or constipation or feel “stuck” in your life, try:
- Drinking a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon.
- Moving your bowels.
- Holding off having your morning coffee until after breakfast, as it can interfere with your appetite and hormonal regulation, particularly if you have adrenal, thyroid or hormone-related imbalances.
- Exercising, practising yoga or doing some gentle stretching. Exercise in the morning is much more beneficial for your body than after work during “kidney” time (as it can have a detrimental effect on your adrenals).
7am to 9am: The stomach
Qi is used to digest your food, so if you’re the kind of person who has low stomach energy, skipping breakfast can work for you. Intermittent fasting has also shown to have a number of benefits, which can include “eating windows” that might not include your regular breakfast meal. Tips for 7am to 9am include:
- Choosing warm foods to aid digestive function. Cold foods “shock” the digestive system, and if done regularly, you may feel depleted, tired and ungrounded throughout the day.
- Trying to add vegetables like spinach, mushrooms and zucchini into this meal — in an omelette is ideal!
- Using this time to practice mindfulness, for example, making time to sit down and enjoy your meal.
9am to 11am: The spleen
This powerful organ transfers our food into nutrients and distributes that energy throughout our body. If it is not functioning correctly, you may suffer from exhaustion, bloating, loose bowel movements or feelings of despair. In terms of spleen health:
- Dedicate this time to working, meetings, studying and activities that increase levels of concentration. This is particularly important for students who often study late at night. Evenings should be for relaxing, recharging and minimising screen time.
- Use this time to snack on healthy foods like sweet potatoes, figs and cherries, which can promote good spleen health.
11am to 1pm: The heart
The philosophies of both Western and Eastern Medicine state that the heart is one of the most important parts of the organ system. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes the heart is responsible for holding our memories, which is why some heart transplant recipients sometimes acquire the skills and memories of their donor! In terms of the traditional Chinese Medicine Body Clock, during these hours, our heart works hardest to keep nutrients circulating, so take care of it. Tips for heart health include:
- Using this time for creativity like trying out an artistic endeavour, brainstorming or doing activities that embody joy and love.
- Doing something restorative like yoga or enjoying a well-balanced meal. By keeping stress levels down, you help to prevent shortness of breath and heart palpitations.
1pm to 3pm: The small intestine
The small intestine is responsible for keeping the body’s usable energy separate from waste — it “Separates the Pure from the Impure”. At this time, the energy of the day begins to slow down, so it’s the ideal time to have a rest and support our systems in preparation for the evening.
If this energy system is working well, it can also be the perfect time to start sifting, sorting and organising information. Sometimes, vulnerable thoughts of feelings of abandonment, insecurity and vulnerability may subconsciously arise at this time.
If you have indigestion or a dry mouth, you may not have had enough nutritious food or water throughout the day. Try to:
- Schedule lunch at this time and again, try to choose warm, nourishing meals if possible.
- Afterwards, and if possible, try to have a quick nap to give you the energy to get through your afternoon activities. If you can’t, have a meditation break. Choose somewhere you won’t be disturbed and focus on your breath for ten to fifteen minutes before returning to work or study.
3pm to 5pm: The bladder
This is a prime time for a midday “slump”, particularly if you aren’t properly hydrated - which is why some people reach for another coffee or a chocolate bar! This overload of sugar can cause an insulin spike which can lead to an afternoon “crash”. This time period is a powerful indication of how well your energy is flowing. Try to:
- Schedule tasks requiring less “brainpower” such as basic paperwork, grocery shopping or more mundane tasks.
- Apart from water, the bladder also enjoys the occasional salty food, so try consuming a cup of miso soup or 'Bone Broth'
5pm to 7pm: The kidneys
The kidneys are considered the “root of life” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and they purify our blood and support our body’s natural cleansing processes. If they are functioning well, your energy levels will still be going strong at this time. If you’ve noticed a drop, your adrenals need some assistance, so swap that glass of wine for an earlier bedtime. You
- Avoid strenuous workouts or high-intensity exercise, particularly if you have adrenal fatigue, a thyroid condition or a hormonal imbalance.
- Relax and unwind. If you feel you must move your body during this time, opt for gentler exercises like stretching, a relaxing walk or a yoga class.
7pm to 9pm: The pericardium
The job of the pericardium is an important one — it works hard to support our heart function. This time period is all about “unwinding” and preparing your body for sleep, so to support pericardium health:
- Relax with your loved ones.
- Sit down to eat a light dinner.
- Turn off your electronics and don’t touch them until morning!
- Have a shower and change into comfortable clothes, which will signal the end of work time and help you relax.
- Stretch, meditate or lay on your back with your legs up against a wall for five minutes. This is a great way to relax the nervous system.
9pm to 11pm: The triple heater
This is ideally the time we should be easing into sleep to keep our endocrine and metabolic systems regulated and conserve energy for the next day. If the triple heater is out of balance, you may experience feelings of cognitive confusion or hopelessness. In terms of Chinese medicine body clock tips:
- Create a sanctuary in your bedroom with candles, plants, dim lighting or an essential oil diffuser (lavender is ideal for relaxation).
- Don’t eat or use technology in bed!
- Try to include a gratitude practice as part of your nighttime routine. Write down three things you are grateful for. Keeping a notebook by your bed can also help you avoid your phone!
11pm to 1am: The gallbladder
The gallbladder works hard to repair damaged cells and build new ones, so these hours are when regeneration happens. In Chinese medicine, the gallbladder is related to decision making, so if you struggle to do this, you may also be struggling to sleep during this time.
If you find yourself scrolling on your phone, you may be interfering with your gallbladder’s ability to digest good fats and excrete bile. The next day, you will probably also have low self-esteem and feel indecisive. Tips for gallbladder health include:
- Actively practice making decisions without being swayed by anyone else’s opinion.
- If you are struggling to sleep at this time, consider acupuncture. It is a powerful tool that not only offers pain relief but can also reduce stress and help balance out your gallbladder’s energy.
1am to 3am: The liver
The liver plays a vital role in detoxifying the body, cleansing our blood and processing our emotions, and deep sleep is crucial at this time. If you are waking up, your liver is overloaded, you have an unhealthy diet, are experiencing high levels of stress, have consumed excess alcohol that night, or your nervous system is stuck in a state of “fight or flight”. The following day you will also probably have low energy and feelings of angst. Tips for “liver time” include:
- Reduce your alcohol intake.
- Increase your stress-reducing activities, including journaling, mediation or scheduling in a deep tissue massage or acupuncture.
3am to 5am: The lungs
This is still “yin” time, so hopefully, you are still sleeping! Beyond breathing, our lungs keep our immune system healthy and help us move energy through our bodies. If you are waking at this time, you may have an imbalance in your lungs and coughing and wheezing may occur. Sadness and grief are emotions linked to the lungs, so if you are feeling stress or emotional tension, it may also be decreasing your ability to take deep breaths. Tips for “lung time” include:
- Practice deep abdominal breathing exercises, including yoga and meditation.
- Have a notebook beside your bed and record what you remember of your dreams.
- If you wake at this time, try to meditate and connect with your breath by practising deep abdominal breathing.
- Dr Stephanie Flockhart, 2020, How to make every day work for you using the ancient Chinese Body Clock, Endeavour College of Natural Health
- Jamie Korf, 2020, The Chinese Medicine Body Clock: optimise your sleep, meals and mood, Mpls St Paul Magazine