WHAT’S A CHINESE BODY CLOCK?
And Why It Matters
We’ve all had those days that are just off. We tend to chalk them up to a lack of sleep or just “waking up on the wrong side of the bed,” but there’s a lot more at work internally that we’re unaware of.
In the West, we use the term “circadian rhythm” to describe our body’s innate ability to regulate its activity over 24-hour cycles. It’s why we fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning like clockwork, but in Eastern Medicine, the concept of circadian rhythm is taken a step further with the Chinese Bodyclock.
What Is the Chinese Bodyclock?
Put simply, a Chinese Bodyclock helps us determine the optimal times for our bodies to eat, sleep, rest, and exercise. TCM teaches that each major organ of the body has a 2-hour period every day where it’s most active and energetic. During the organ’s specific time of day, qi concentrates in that organ system before it flows to the next set of organs based on the clock.
According to the Chinese Bodyclock, the body is broken down into 12 organs with their own times:
- Heart, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Small Intestine, 1-3 p.m.
- Bladder, 3-5 p.m.
- Kidney, 5-7 p.m.
- Pericardium, 7-9 p.m.
- Triple Burner, 9-11 p.m.
- Gall Bladder, 11 p.m.-12 a.m.
- Liver, 1-3 a.m.
- Lungs, 3-5 a.m.
- Large Intestine, 5-7 a.m.
- Stomach, 7-9 a.m.
- Spleen, 9-11 a.m.
“Triple burner,” or “San Jiao” in Chinese, refers to three separate systems of organs: The upper burner encompasses the thorax and breathing function; the middle burner refers to organs at the top of the stomach and the digestive system; and the lower burner refers to organs below the abdomen.
How the Chinese Bodyclock Works With Your Body
You’re probably wondering how the Chinese Bodyclock actually works. What you need to know is that it’s important to be mindful of the time of day so you know which organ is at work. You’ll find that a lot of these organ functions naturally fall in step with your daily routine.
For example, the liver is most active at night while you sleep, and the heart falls right into the early afternoon when you’re most active. We’ve broken down each organ below with its time of day and primary function:
1. Lungs, 3-5 a.m.
What to do: You’ll most likely be asleep, but what’s important at this time is to breathe softly and consistently. Sleep is valuable and helps rejuvenate the body.
What to look out for: If you can’t sleep during these hours, it most likely stems from sadness or grief. If you wake yourself up with coughing, sneezing, or a sinus issue, it implies there’s something wrong with your diet or lifestyle.
2. Large Intestine, 5-7 a.m.
What to do: You should be waking up at this time. You’ll want to drink warm water to help your body naturally detox and to aid your large intestine with digestion.
What to look out for: The morning is the best time to process emotions. If you’re having particular trouble handling your emotions, it’s also a good time to exercise.
3. Stomach, 7-9 a.m.
What to do: TCM teaches that breakfast is the most important meal of your day. So, eat a hearty breakfast so you have energy.
What to look out for: Despair is associated with the stomach in the morning. TCM practitioners advise avoiding cold foods (bye bye parfaits) and to consume warm liquids and foods instead, which will also help you process difficult emotions.
4. Pancreas and Spleen, 9-11 a.m.
What to do: The spleen is considered the most important digestive organ in TCM because it builds blood. To do so, you need to eat a good breakfast to provide energy, so eat up! This is the time of day when you can really focus on hard work, so maybe there’s something to being a “morning person” after all.
What to look out for: Self-esteem and jealousy are key emotions associated with these organs, but providing the body the nutrients it needs will help you cope with them.
5. Heart, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
What to do: You’ll want to let your heart work well, so TCM practitioners advise eating a light lunch.
What to look out for: You don’t want to overwork your body. This could be physical or mental, but a great way to stay positive is to enjoy a good meal over conversation with friends or colleagues.
6. Small Intestine, 1-3 p.m.
What to do: You’ve eaten lunch, so your body will be digesting it. During this time, it’s key to let your body separate waste from energy while you focus on your work.
What to look out for: At this time, you’re also more prone to be insecure. However, focusing on the work at hand (and giving your body time to process food) is the greatest distraction.
7. Bladder, 3-5 p.m.
What to do: Feeling tired? This period of time is the end of the workday for most of us. It’s time to settle into your evening, and it’s not so difficult for those of us who can hear our bed calling our name at 4:30 at the office.
What to look out for: It’s typical to get frustrated at this time. This may be due to tiredness from a long day at work. An easy tip is to avoid caffeine before lunch so you don’t feel the comedown later.
8. Kidney, 5-7 p.m.
What to do: This is the time of day when you should be focusing on winding down for bed. However, you shouldn’t feel too exhausted quite yet.
What to look out for: As mentioned, if you’re extremely exhausted already, it can be a sign of overworking or playing too hard after hours. Whatever the case may be, feeling complete exhaustion too soon means you’re burning the midnight oil too often and need more rest.
9. Pericardium, 7-9 p.m.
What to do: The pericardium supports your heart, making it a great time to focus on meditation, stretching, and relaxing. Take a bath or wind down with a good book!
What to look out for: It’s common to feel more euphoric at this time. That’s all well and good, but you should be sure to allow yourself to wind down rather than overstimulating it.
10. Triple Burner, 9-11 p.m.
What to do: Don’t get confused with the triple burner here. The most important thing is that you want to make sure you’re hydrating your body to support your blood vessels and metabolism.
What to look out for: If you’re dehydrated, you’re likely experiencing headaches or lacking energy. While it’s ok to feel tired, you want to make sure your body is hydrated before you sleep by drinking enough warm water.
11. Gallbladder, 11 p.m.-1 a.m.
What to do: These hours are prime healing hours for your body. In TCM, gallbladder is associated with your muscles, meaning it’s when the gallbladder does its best work.
What to look out for: Try to fall asleep earlier if you can. Otherwise, you don’t give your gallbladder the time it needs to digest fats, which is believed to affect your ability to make decisions.
12. Liver, 1-3 a.m.
What to do: Make sure you’re asleep. Your liver helps filter your body’s toxins, and is also to blame if your emotions are all over the place. You need rest to ensure your liver has time to do its work.
What to look out for: If you’re waking up at this time, it’s likely due to anger, anxiety, or frustration. If you have no trouble sleeping, try going to bed a little earlier (around 9) to give your body the time it needs to heal.
Do you have any questions about the Chinese Bodyclock? Feel free to drop these questions in the comments!