Updated: Jan 17
Most of us understand the circadian rhythm which is a 24-hour internal body clock that cycles between being asleep and awake. This cycle is controlled by a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus in conjunction with other environmental factors to send the body signals for when it is time to sleep and be awake.
Chinese medicine philosophy takes a more comprehensive approach to the understanding of the biological rhythm of the body. Qi flows through 12 meridians of the body in a 24-hour cycle. Nearly every function of the body is linked to an internal function of the body in 2-hour intervals. Each two hours allocated to a particular internal organ is when that particular organ should be at its optimal and can affect not only the physical but also the emotional and mental levels. The body speaks to us through the manifestations it presents. Listening to our bodies and looking at the patterns are essential to finding root causes for conditions. It can guide us on ways to improve our health and wellbeing. This body clock is said to start with the Lungs as breathing is the body’s first independent action coming in to this world.
3am to 5am
Element: Metal (Yin)
Emotion: Grief and sadness
Action: Sleep soundly
The body should be sound asleep during Lung time. Disruption to sleep at this time suggests a blockage in the ability to breath properly be it due to physical or emotional factors. As the emotions of Lungs are grief, sadness and melancholia, these can be felt more deeply at this time. If awakened at this time, gentle breathing exercises are recommended to fortify the Lungs and process the emotions. Lungs circulate the defensive qi. Someone with weak Lung qi would be prone to getting sick easily. When these exterior diseases are not resolved, it penetrates deeper into the body causing chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, rhinitis and chronic cough. The body should be kept warm at this time to prevent pathogenic invasions. Coughing at this time is your Lungs working to expel toxins from the body.
5am to 7am
Organ: Large Intestine
Element: Metal (Yang)
Emotion: Letting go
Action: Wake up and drink water
The Large Intestine plays a key role in letting go of what is not needed by the body. On a physical level this means the absorption of liquid into the body and releasing the undigested parts not needed by the body. This extends to the emotional level as well. Due to the Lungs being its Yin elemental pair, grief and sadness affects the Large Intestines as well. Go for a brisk walk or do exercises such as Qigong and Taichi during this time to help the peristaltic movements of the bowel for ease in elimination, lymphatic movement and detoxing. Plenty of water and no caffeine is advised to hydrate the body after the long fasting while asleep. When in imbalance, some ways it can manifest are constipation or diarrhea, age spots, edema and weight gain.
7am to 9am
Element: Earth (Yang)
Action: Eat breakfast
As it is the time of the Stomach, this is the time your biggest meal should be for digestion and absorption throughout the day. Warm hearty breakfasts of high nutritional value are recommended to provide the body with long lasting energy. Cold foods such as smoothies and shakes are advised to be avoided as follows the understanding that Cold injures the digestive system. The internal organs react the same way we do to cold; by contracting. As despair is the emotion for this organ, a lot of self-care, self-nourishment is encouraged. The mouth is the sensory organ related to the Stomach. Therefore, some imbalances in the Stomach can arise as bleeding gums, foul breath and vomiting.
9am to 11am
Element: Earth (Yin)
Action: Work and be active
Spleen is associated with mental powers and supports metabolism. The element of Spleen being Earth, Mother Earth feeds, nurtures and nourishes us, the Spleen also nourishes us by transforming and transporting the nutrients throughout the body. While the energy from the food is being released, this is an ideal time for work and exercise. The most taxing and mentally active should be done at this time of day. Take the saying, ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ to heart as anxiety and worry in excess injures the Spleen creating issues in digestive health. Low self-esteem is suggestive of a weakness in the Spleen. As Spleen governs muscles, conditions pertaining to muscles may also be originating from an imbalance of the Spleen.
11am to 1pm
Element: Fire (Yin)
Action: Eat lunch & socialise
The Heart is King of all organs in Chinese Medicine. It pumps the nutrient rich blood throughout the body. This is an ideal time to take a little siesta nap and rest to allow your heart to do its beast. This is also the perfect time to connect with other people, be social and be of service. A nutritious meal that is lighter than breakfast is recommended. Perspiration is the fluid of the Heart. As a result, an excess perspiration can be seen as a deficiency of Qi or of the Heart. Blood vessels being the tissue of the Heart give our faces a complexion. A deficiency can result in a pale complexion where as a red face signals an excess true to its element; Fire. As joy is the emotion of the Heart, smiling often and feeling gratitude is recommended.
1pm to 3pm
Organ: Small Intestine
Element: Fire (Yang)
Action: Solve your problems and get organised
The Small Intestine assimilates the nutrients into the body directing it where it is needed. This separation and categorisation put the body in perspective. This time is ideal to focus on detail-oriented work, sort out issues and ley the body energy from waste after its light meal. This also involves processing emotional and mental aspects. Imbalances in the Small Intestine can arise as bloating, digestive and appetite issues, burning sensation while urinating and flatulence.
3pm to 5pm
Element: Water (Yang)
Action: Work, Study and drink tea
This is when the metabolic waste from the day gets cleared out from the system. As Kidneys are the Bladders yin pair, Kidney energy mingles in this time as well. Therefore, it is known as Brain time. From late afternoon, the brain demands a vast number of sugars from the bloodstream. When the body has been insufficiently prepared for this, we feel fatigue in this time. This is ideally the best time for efficient work while your brain is working at its optimal. Stimulants such as caffeine is to be avoided at this time. Instead, have some herbal teas or drink more water to help the detox process. When this channel is in imbalance, being irritated or timid may present. Some conditions involve frequent urination or difficulty urinating, low back pain and headaches.
5pm to 7pm
Element: Water (Yin)
Action: Eat dinner and restore your kidneys
The blood has been filtered and the Kidneys work to maintain proper chemical balance in the body at this time. This is the perfect time to have dinner and activate circulation by doing some exercise. Take care not to do strenuous exercises at this time as the body is unwinding, getting ready for the night. Fear being the emotion of the Kidneys, thoughts surrounding your worries and fear may be more prominent at this time. As your kidneys are your energy reserves, If you feel overly fatigued at this time, it may suggest issues with your adrenals. Some other manifestations of imbalance are low back pain, low libido and early greying of hair.
7pm to 9pm
Element: Ministerial fire (Yin)
Emotion: Excessive euphoria
Action: Socialise, flirt and have fun
Pericardium is responsible for circulation of nutrients through the capillaries to the lymphatic system. Other are it is responsible for are the brain and reproductive organs. Although there is mental clarity at this time, it is best to do light reading instead of stimulating mental activity. As the element of Pericardium is Fire, this is a good time to connect with people, socialise and even engage in sex. This is also a good time for self-care activities such as getting a massage, taking a bath, meditate and doing gentle stretches. Finding it difficult to express oneself especially emotionally may come up if the pericardium is unbalanced. Some physical manifestations involve palpitations, anxiety and mental confusion. It is best to be kind and gentle towards yourself in Pericardium time.
9pm to 11pm
Organ: San Jiao/ Triple Heater/ Triple Warmer
Element: Ministerial fire (Yang)
Emotion: Confused or paranoid
Action: Chill out, relax and read
The san Jiao relates to the pathways of water in the body as well as the endocrine system in regards to homeostasis; balance throughout the body. As it relates to the water pathways, hydration is important to to repair the Thyroid and adrenals after a full day and conserve energy for the following day. This is also a time for rest. Ideally you should be asleep or getting into bed. Avoid eating as it stimulates activity in the body to process the food. Feelings of confusion or paranoia may arise. Some symptoms seen as San Jiao pathology are alternating chills and fever, delirium and epigastric fullness.
11pm to 1am
Organ: Gall Bladder
Element: Wood (Yang)
Emotion: Indecisiveness and resentment
Action: Sleep and regenerate
The body does most of its repairs when you are asleep. To wake up feeling refreshed, one important habit to follow is to be asleep at this time. On a physical level, the Gall Bladder stores and excretes bile to digest fatty foods. In a mental aspect, the Gall Bladder controls the capacity to make decisions, gives the person courage and initiative. It provides the sinews with Qi to ensure proper movement and agility. Therefore, imbalances to this organ will result in the inability to digest fatty foods properly, gall stones, waking up early in the morning and unable to fall asleep again and indecisiveness. Foods such as lemon, dandelion root and kale that nourish the Gall Bladder are recommended. Yoga is a great way to stretch and strengthen the sinews allowing freer flow of Qi.
1am to 3am
Element: Wood (Yin)
Emotion: Anger and frustration
Action: Deep resting and dreaming
During Liver time is when you should be in your deepest sleep. Blood production occurs in this time. If you are not asleep at this time, you might find yourself getting weaker, stressed and have a negative effect on the entire body. The Liver is a regulating, balancing and harmonising organ for the physical and emotional aspects of the body. If you wake up at this time your liver maybe in distress by the amount of detoxing it needs to do due to is alcohol, chemicals, drugs, and poor diet. Anger, frustration, repressed emotions are signs of a Liver imbalance. Staying calm, taking things easy and slow is a wonderful way to nourish the Liver.