The Chinese Medicine Body Clock: Why Timing of Symptoms Matters

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there is an organ clock that represents the time of the day when each organ is functioning optimally and has the most energy. There are 12 organ systems and 2 accessory systems that are represented by this clock. Each organ system is also associated with an emotion, taste, sense organ, season, etc. but we won't be diving into that here.

What we will be diving into are the physical and emotional symptoms that arise if an organ is out of balance. But keep in mind that if some of the symptoms don’t make sense (ie. kidney imbalance showing up as premature graying of hair), just know that TCM is a highly developed and intricate form of medicine that differs from Western medical diagnosis.

The Clock

Here is a brief discussion of the organ systems with their corresponding times, and how imbalances in these systems may arise both physically and emotionally.

3-5am Lung: The lung is responsible for moving the qi (energy) through the meridians and to the entire body, as well as providing immune protection. It is also associated with grief. You may wake up during these times if you are struggling with grief or sorrow. Imbalances may also show up as wheezing, coughing, asthma, or getting sick easily.

5-7am Large Intestine: This is the best time to have a bowel movement. The large intestine is all about ‘letting go’ - both physically and emotionally. Symptoms of imbalances in the large intestine include constipation, dry stools, skin rash, and feeling emotionally ‘stuck’ .

7-9am Stomach: The stomach’s function is to digest & breakdown foods, so this is the best time to eat a healthy & hearty breakfast. If the stomach is out of balance, symptoms that may arise include acid reflux, stomach ulcer, and bad breath.

9-11am Spleen: In TCM, the spleen extracts nutrients from food, transforms it into energy and transports it to other organ systems. During this timeframe, you can support the spleen by having a nice cup of warming tea, or a light snack. Foods that support the spleen include cinnamon, yam, dates, and lentils. Imbalances in the spleen may show up as loose stools, bloating after meals, craving sweets, and low energy.

11am-1pm Heart: During these hours, it is best to relax, take a nap, and enjoy lunch. The heart dislikes heat so try to avoid caffeine, stress, intense exercise, or anything that raises your blood pressure. Signs of imbalances in the heart include palpitations, shortness of breath, cold hands & feet, and insomnia.

1-3pm Small Intestine: The small intestine separates the clear and turbid fluids, and moves these to the urinary bladder and large intestine, respectively. If you haven’t drank enough water during the day, you are more likely to feel dehydrated during this time. When out of balance, conditions that may arise include duodenal ulcer, bloating with vomiting or gas.

3-5pm Urinary Bladder: This is a time of the day when you can feel a dip in energy levels, especially if you are not well-hydrated. The urinary bladder stores & secretes urine (clear fluid), and is nourished by salty foods so having a bowl of brothy soup, such as miso or veggie broth, during this time helps strengthen the bladder (and the kidney, which is it’s paired organ). When out of balance, you may experience burning when urinating, yeast infection, or urinary incontinence.

5-7pm Kidney: The kidneys are responsible for healthy reproduction, development, and growth. You can support the kidneys during this time by having a healthy meal (but not too large) with a little salt for flavoring and/or cozying up with a loved one, which keeps your kidney ‘essence’ strong! When the kidney meridian is out of balance, symptoms that may arise include sexual difficulties, low back pain, or premature graying of hair.

7-9pm Pericardium: This is one of the accessory organs systems. To support the pericardium, this is the time to do something gentle to help ease yourself into sleep, such as meditation, light stretching, reading, or cuddling.

9-11pm San Jiao (Triple Burner): This is the second accessory organ system. To best support San Jiao, this is the time that we should be going to sleep – having an earlier bed time in the winter, and staying up a little later in summer.

11pm-1am Gall Bladder: Physically, the gallbladder stores and secretes bile, but emotionally, it is in charge of self-esteem and decision-making. If you’re not sleeping by this time, you are depleting your gall bladder’s energy stores, which over time, can lead to poor self-esteem, poor judgment, or difficulty digesting fats.

1-3am Liver: The liver’s role is to store blood for menstruation and to get us through the day. If you’re not sleeping at this time, you can quickly become deficient, especially if you are female because of the importance of blood for menstruation (even for those going through menopause). The liver is also emotionally connected to anger. You may find that you wake up between 1-3am if you have repressed anger or long standing resentment. Symptoms of liver imbalances include irregular menstruation, anemia, chronic fatigue, and headache.

Why We Love Acupuncture 

Acupuncture is one of the best ways to tap into the different organ system channels (meridians). Typically, an acupuncture session has points that touch on many organ systems, because often symptoms are overlapping and there are several different organs involved. And, some of the points are individualized based on the person’s symptoms, constitution, tendencies, and ailments. There are a few ways that we do this, if during a naturopathic visit we decide to add acupuncture into the treatment plan, then we will schedule a 45-minute long acupuncture session. However, if you’re coming in for an initial acupuncture session, sessions are 60 minutes long (15 minutes of reviewing symptoms plus 45 minute treatment). Many people feel very relaxed during the treatment, and may even nap. It is an excellent way to end the day and it is also a great way to schedule in relaxing treatment mid-day (think 11am-1pm Heart Time!)

If you found this helpful, you can book with Dr. Lyndsay Wareham at our Moncton Clinic by clicking here!


In health, 


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