Chinese Medicine Body Clock

Tick Tock Tick's a [body] clock

I LOVE schedules, but there is one that I would really like to kick to the curb. Every night, like clock work, I wake up between 3-3:15AM to use the bathroom. I have a clock in my bathroom, and I’ve gotten a kick out of looking at the hands up close in the dark to note the time, and think, “of course it’s 3:12 AM, why am I not surprised?” For the longest time I thought it was more because of my personality (the fact that I love schedules and my body was playing along) rather than anything bigger. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that there’s actually a pretty good explanation for it.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there’s a theory known as the Body Clock where each organ is related to specific times on the clock when they are at their peak function and the most energy (Qi) is moving through that particular organ system. Symptoms that appear and disappear regularly during different times of the day correspond directly to this ebb and flow of Qi energy.

Chinese Medicine Body Clock Diagram

Chinese Medicine Body Clock Diagram

When our bodies are out of balance and we have too much Qi flowing through or going to a particular organ, we’ll see symptoms during the peak of that organ’s function on the clock. On the other hand, if that organ does not have enough Qi for it to function properly, the symptoms will appear on the opposite side of the clock when the organ is at its lowest energy level.

For example, symptoms of not enough Kidney Qi show up between 5-7AM. This is the reason why some people have difficulty waking up with energy and enthusiasm. But when there is too much Kidney Qi, the symptoms are different. Instead, there will be increased stiffness and pain in the lower back between 3-7PM, during the peak hours of Bladder and Kidney function.

Here are a couple more examples:


Are you a “must have coffee immediately upon waking to function” type of person? Or a “I enjoy the ritual of coffee and its taste and leisurely sip it after my breakfast” type of person? I’m definitely the second, and have always been appreciative that I don’t NEED coffee to survive, I just WANT coffee.

According to Chinese Medicine our organs optimally function during two hour time blocks, at the same time every day. Think of it as a “work shift” where it does most of its duties. During this time, that specified organ is at its peak energy, and the organ on the opposite side of the clock, twelve hours away, is at its lowest energy.

Between 5-7AM the large intestine is in charge of separating what we don’t need and eliminating it. During this time it is extremely important to drink plenty of warm water (even better with fresh lemon in it to help flush out the liver before it has to start working on the food consumed). Warm water stimulates the involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine creating wavelike movements that push the contents for elimination forward. Cold water does not do this as it causes your body to constrict.

So why is it so important to not drink caffeine during this time period? Caffeine is a diuretic which causes an increase in urination. This takes water away from your colon and brings it to the kidneys and bladder to be eliminated. The problem is, our body needs enough water during this time to perform its processes of repairing and maintaining the large intestine and colon and “letting go”, in the literal and figurative sense. Without enough water you can become imbalanced, showing symptoms of frequent constipation, dry stools, skin rash, weight gain, have an unclear and cluttered mind or have the feeling of being emotionally ‘stuck’.

Start the day off right, and give yourself enough time in the morning to allow for the normal elimination function of the large intestine. And if you “must” drink caffeine, save it until after 7AM.

1am-3am LIVER

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, “eating late at night is bad for your digestion." “Ok, but this piece of pizza is so damn good right now I don’t care,” I think to myself. It’s a battle of knowing it’s bad, but not understanding WHY, and just knowing that I shouldn’t do it. That’s always my recipe for failure.

The liver’s “work shift” is between 1-3am–during this time it reaches its peak energy, working to cleanse the blood. Opposite of the liver on the body clock, and at its lowest energy, is the small intestine. This is the organ responsible for the absorption and assimilation of many key nutrients provided by the spleen.

Why is this important? Late night snacking is causing your body to work on overtime! And unfortunately, it never gets to finish the job to completion. Eating late at night causes energy to be taken away from the liver, and it cannot finish cleansing your blood from all the food eaten prior in the day. This results in sluggish movements in the morning and brain fog. In addition, because the small intestine is not fully up to speed late at night, it cannot fully absorb the snack your are eating. Resulting in poor digestion and possibly weight gain if it becomes a habit.

Understanding this has helped me make “better” decisions. That doesn’t always mean passing up the snack, but it does help me know why I usually have less energy the next morning. Usually though, I just go to bed and dream about that piece of pizza instead.


Isn't the body amazing!? When I learned about the body clock, my mind was blown. And what's so cool is that once you understand that every organ has a repair/maintenance schedule to keep on a daily basis, you can use that knowledge to learn how to treat yourself for improved health and well-being.

Be wise,


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