The Chinese Body Clock

Chinese Body Clock by Lucy Clarke

If you repeatedly wake in the night, I am always keen to know what time. I’m also interested to know what time of day your energy dips or your condition or symptoms worsen. Why? As an Acupuncturist, I’m applying theory from the Chinese Body Clock to help me restore and balance your health.  This blog provides an overview to what the Chinese Body Clock is and how it can be used to restore and maintain good health. 

The use of capitals letters in this blog e.g. Heart, Blood, Fluid, is used to denote that this term has a meaning in Chinese Medicine different to the meaning of the lower case word in English e.g. heart, blood, fluid.

What is the Chinese Body Clock? 

I liken the Chinese clock to an ancient info-graphic of how the body functions. This diagram is a representation of how energy (Qi) moves around our body during a 24-hour cycle; it tells us when the energy in our organs ebbs and flows.  The Chinese Body Clock is a visual representation of how the energy pathways, called channels, relate to each and how our energy flows from one organ system to the next, when the dominant energy is Yin or Yang and how the various organ systems interrelate to one another.

Chinese Organ Systems

The Chinese Body Clock contains important acupuncture theory, which pre-dates modern Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Good health is demonstrated by optimal organ function. In ancient China the affects of illness and disease and how they affected the body were studied extensively and documented. This information was refined and charted into what Acupuncturists know and refer to as the Chinese Clock. 

In Chinese Medicine 12 organ systems control and govern specific functions in the body. Each of these systems is most active for 2 hours within a 24 hour period. This can be likened to and has similarities to circadian rhythm and the impact this has on body functions. 

Human health depends on the functioning and processing of these organ systems. Think of each organ system as more than the physical vital organ; an organ system encompasses both the visceral organ along with its energetic associations and relationships.

For example, in Western Medicine your heart is responsible for circulating blood around your body. In Chinese Medicine, this is also true, but your Heart energy is also associated with controlling blood vessels, is considered to open into the tongue and Heart conditions manifest in the face & complexion.  The body fluid associated with the Heart is sweat and the Heart is said to house the mind, mental activity, memory and sleep. 

Using the Chinese Body Clock to Support your Health

Our energy levels are dependent on the food we eat, what we drink, our sleep, our thoughts, and our activities. When our energy is circulating smoothly, we experience good health. When our energy is out of balance, we can experience particular emotions and physical symptoms.  If this imbalance continues it can lead to illness in our body. 

This is the reason our daily routine and lifestyle choices support or hinder our health. Let’s take food and drink; it seems obvious the type of food we eat is important in nourishing our body but also of importance is when and how we eat.  

Do you eat on the run and quickly wolf down your food? Or do you take time to enjoy your food and allow your body to digest properly? Maybe you eat when you are stressed, upset or angry? Also, how much water do you drink each day? Do you drink enough fluid to stay properly hydrated and flush toxins and waste from your body? 

Most people know the body repairs and heals as we sleep. Do you get enough sleep each night to support this? Optimal sleep is both the length and quality of our sleep. Maybe you toss and turn in bed trying to get to sleep or wake frequently during the night? We can support our sleep by avoiding over stimulating our minds before bed and taking time to relax.  Our aim is to wake refreshed and rested, clear headed and alert. 

To ensure you have adequate energy levels during the day it is important to exercise in the right way at the right times.  When you experience energy dips or tiredness, this can prevent you from doing the things you want to do. By altering your lifestyle choices, you can support your health. 

What do the organ systems do?

The Chinese Body Clock outlines which organ systems are most active during throughout the day. Keep reading to find out more and the different ways you can support your health – 

3am – 5am Lung (Yin)

The Lungs key functions are to Govern Qi and respiration while also having close links with your nose, skin and hair. Associated Lung emotions are Sadness and Greif and the associated sound is Weeping. The Lungs produce and circulate Qi round the body and when this is out of balance, people can experience eczema, asthma, cough, phlegm and breathlessness. Support your Lung function with gentle breathing at this time. This usually happens as you sleep. Changes in diet can also help restore balance. 

5am – 7am Large Intestine (Yang)

The Large Intestine absorbs nutrients and fluids from Small Intestine and excretes waste and toxins from the body. The associated emotion is Guilt. The Large Intestine is involved with waking up, releasing and letting go which allows the body to cleanse and excrete waste and toxins. When out of balance constipation occurs and also holding onto feelings and emotions.  Bolster your Large Intestine function by establishing a regular bowel movement first thing in the morning.  Drinking warm water on waking is a good way to do this. Also, gentle movements helps rid held emotions. 

7am – 9am Stomach (Yang)

The Stomach is most active during these times. In Chinese medicine the Stomach is involved in nourishing the body with the main function of transporting digested food essences around the body. It likes warmth and moisture. Stomach Qi descends and when out of balance you can experience symptoms such as acid reflux, indigestion and bad breath. The Stomach works very closely with the Spleen. This is a good time to eat breakfast.

9am – 11am Spleen (Yin) 

The Spleen has a broader function than what you may initially think. In Western medicine the spleen is involved with blood, especially cleaning the blood, and the spleen is also closely aligned with the pancreas. In Chinese Medicine the Spleen is majorly involved with digestion but it also has influence controlling muscles and limbs, raising Qi in the body and housing thought. The Spleen transforms nutrients from food into Qi and Blood to then transports them around the body. The Spleen is said to hold blood in place. Unlike the Stomach, the Spleen likes to be cool and dry. Avoid ice cold drinks as this reduces your Spleens ability to process food and thoughts.

When the Spleen is out of balance you can get worried and have pre-occupied thoughts. You may also experience bloating, loose stools, crave sugar and have low energy. Bruising easily and having a prolapse are also possible signs of a Spleen imbalance. 

11am – 1pm Heart (Yin) 

The Heart is regarded as the Emperor. Its main functions are to Govern blood and control the blood vessels. The Heart circulates blood around the body and the vessels and plays a key role in housing your Mind / Spirit (Shen). It has a strong effect on dreams. The Heart is associated with Joy and, when out of balance, Mania. Symptoms of imbalance can include shortness of breath, palpitations, sweats, insomnia and cold hands and feet. Support your Heart by relaxing at this time and taking 10 minutes out of a busy day. 

1pm – 3pm Small Intestine (Yang)

The Small Intestine separates the clean from the dirty; pure from the impure. It then sends energy, nutrients and fluids to the Kidneys or Large Intestine. The Small Intestine and Heart are a Yin / Yang pair and support each other. The Small Intestine receives and further separates fluids from solids; it takes what is useful and discards the waste. It is said to assist clarity of decision-making.

When out of balance, symptoms of abdominal pain, indigestion, bloating and flatulence can be experienced. Support Small Intestine function by aiming to use this time of day for work which requires clarity of thought and making decisions about what to keep and what to discard. 

3pm – 5pm Bladder (Yang) 

The Bladder stores and then eliminates waste liquid from the body. The Bladder likes salty food. Bladder symptoms include burning, incontinence and yeast infections. When dehydrated, you can experience an energy dip at this time of day. Support your Bladder by not consuming caffeine at this time ‘just to keep you going’ and make sure you drink enough water and stay properly hydrated. 

5pm – 7pm Kidney (Yin)

The Kidneys are of key importance and regarded as the cornerstone of your energy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys are involved in the production of bone marrow and also filtering & cleaning the blood and fluids in your body. In addition, they are related to your adrenal system and your energy levels.

The associated emotion Fear. When Kidney energy is out of balance you can experience hearing problems, early greying of hair, lack of libido, sore knees and lower back pain.  Some people experience night sweats. Support your Kidney function by eating a nourishing evening meal between these times; not too heavy and easy to digest. 

7pm-9pm Pericardium (Yin)

The Pericardium is the Heart Protector. It has strong links with the Heart as it is also involved with Governing Blood, Housing the Mind. In Western Medicine it is the sack that surrounds and protects the Heart.

In Tradition Chinese Medicine this is regarded as the energy system which dominates circulation.  Therefore circulating nutrients, Blood and vital energy around the body. Associated emotions are Love and Compassion and the Pericardium is closely linked with relationships. This is a key time of day to nourish the heart. Support the Pericardium function by spending this time with loved ones and friends. This is a good time for romance and intimacy. 

9pm – 11pm San Jiao (Yang) 

The San Jiao (also called the Triple Burner) isn’t an organ at all! This system is definitely best thought of as an energy system and not a physical organ. The San Jiao impacts all the other organ systems and they depend on it to function optimally.  The San Jiao is related to the Endocrine system and plays a key role in modulating heat throughout the body. Other key functions include controlling water passageways and the movement of Qi in and around the whole body. It has a direct effect on the upper, middle and lower areas of the torso; hence the name San (meaning 3) Jiao. 

This is definitely the time to allow your body to relax, rest and unwind. Ideally you should be going to sleep around now as your melatonin secretion begins. Turn off all screens and read or listen to music to gently unwind. This will support your sleep and let your body heal and repair.  

11pm – 1am Gallbladder (Yang)

In Chinese Medicine the Gallbladder has close links with its Western medicine functions. It stores and excretes bile which in turn help to process fats while you are sleeping.  However, the Gallbladder also governs decision making, controls sinews and has a close relationship with its paired Yin organ the Liver.  

Gallbladder imbalance presents as indecisiveness and difficulty making decisions (knowing what to do is linked to the Small Intestine but a strong Gallbladder gives you the courage to make the decisions).  Imbalance presents as difficulty sleeping. Support your Gallbladder function by avoiding eating fatty food late at night. Sleep during this time is crucial to support Gallbladder functions which in turn promote the Liver functions of storing and cleaning blood. 

1am – 3am Liver (Yin)

Key Liver functions are to store blood (especially when we sleep) and ensure Qi flows smoothly and in the right direction. Our Liver energy helps us plan and get things done. Liver energy also relates to sinews and tendons and has close links with the eyes. Related emotions are anger, resentment, and frustration. When out of balance symptoms include irregular, heavy and painful menstruation. Other health complaints can include anaemia, migraine headaches, hypochondriac pain and abdominal distension.

Our Liver energy houses our Ethereal Soul (Hun) when we sleep. Therefore waking in the night during these times can denote an imbalance with our Liver energy. Support your Liver by making sure you are sleeping between 1-3am. Also, find strategies for relaxing and unwinding and releasing tension.  Exercise during the day such as brisk walking helps to move stuck and stagnant Liver energy. This will also help you sleep better at night.  

For more information on the Chinese Body Clock and how it relates to your health, chat to me in clinic. I have charts that cover this information and I am happy to explain things in further detail. 

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