TCM: The Body Clock

Updated: Jul 17

Welcome to this article series on Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM). The aim of this series is to provide you with foundational and practical knowledge of TCM that you can use to improve your own health at home in daily life. The recommendations in this series are simple, accessible, and mostly free. After all, good health should be something that is accessible to everyone!


Here is a clickable table of contents for this series:

  1. Introduction and Foundation

  2. The Five Elements Profiles

  3. Food and Cooking

  4. The Five Major Organs

  5. The Nine Body Constitutions

  6. The Body Clock

  7. Common Treatments from a Practitioner

  8. My Experience with TCM

This article is Part 6: The Body Clock.

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Previously, article 3 explained how different organs in the body have different functions. In TCM, different times of the day correspond to when different organs have the most qi. TCM divides up the 24-hour day into 12 two-hour periods, where each period has our qi focused on a particular organ. If we can do activities at times that match that organ’s function, then it will be much better for our health.


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Fun fact: Ayurveda (Traditional Indian Medicine) has a very similar body clock to TCM!


Now let’s talk about each time slot in more detail.


5:00 AM – 7:00 AM

This is the time of the large intestines. It’s a good time to wake up, poop, and meditate. It’s also a good idea to drink some warm water shortly upon waking to rehydrate the body and help with the elimination of toxins. You could also add some lemon juice, ginger, and/or honey to your water to make it more healing. Starting the day with some meditation helps nurture peace and calmness that can carry on throughout the rest of the day, and as we learned before, healthy emotions are key to organ health. Other options to meditation include yoga, tai chi, and breathing exercises; the key is that it nurtures peace and tranquility.


7:00 AM – 11:00 AM

This is the time of the stomach and then spleen, meaning our digestion is the strongest during this four-hour time period. That’s why TCM recommends having breakfast be our largest meal. Skipping breakfast is not a good idea in TCM because we’re losing the opportunity to absorb nutrients when our digestion is strongest. Furthermore, the body needs energy to run, and skipping breakfast is like spending money that you don’t have; it’s going to have negative consequences in the future.


Many people care about maintaining a healthy weight nowadays. From a TCM perspective, eating a large breakfast and smaller dinner is important. Since you still have the rest of the day to go through, eating a lot in breakfast won’t result in excess weight gain. But if we eat a lot at night, when the digestive organs are weaker and the body isn’t very active, then that could lead to weight gain. Moreover, eating too much at night hurts our ability to sleep, which then causes other health problems.


After eating, it’s a good idea to go for a short walk to help the stomach digest the food. It’s not a good idea to sit in a hunched position, which compresses the stomach area. If you have poor digestion, or if you just want to help your digestive organs, you can do a simple exercise before or after eating. Basically, you spend a minute to massage along the tendon that’s on the outer side of the shin, which is a part of your stomach meridian. TCM doctor Jason Chong demonstrates in this video:



In addition to the outer side of the shin, you can also do the inner side, which is a part of your spleen meridian.


This four-hour period from 7:00AM to 11:00AM is also a time of great mental concentration and thinking, so it’s a good idea to do hard mental work.


11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

This is the time of the heart. Since the heart is the emotion center, it’s a good idea to carve out a short amount of time for nurturing peaceful emotions. For example, you could take 15 minutes to do some meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga. It’s also a suitable time to have lunch.


1:00 PM – 3:00 PM

This is the time of the small intestines, which means the body is focused on absorbing nutrients from food. It’s normal to experience a drop in energy levels during this time because the body’s qi moves inwards to support the organs and restore the body. Hence, it’s a suitable time for a short nap and for non-intensive activities.


3:00 PM – 5:00 PM

This is the time of the bladder. By 3:00 PM, your energy levels should be back, so it’s a good time to complete any mentally challenging tasks for the day. It’s also a good idea to drink some fluids to support your kidneys and bladder in eliminating toxins.


5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

This is the time of the kidneys. It’s a good idea to eat a light dinner. After dinner, you can do some activities that Increase blood circulation, such walking, massage, or stretching/yoga.


7:00 PM – 11: 00 PM

This is the time of the pericardium (a sac around the heart) and then the triple burner. During this four-hour time period, we should avoid mentally stimulating activities such as watching shows, playing games, intense exercise, or arguments. Instead, we should do relaxing activities that calm the mind, such as

  • light reading

  • taking a warm shower/bath

  • meditation

  • yoga

  • self-massage: there are some acupoints that help with sleep

  • journaling: you can journal about your day and feelings; try to identify three things you’re grateful for

It usually takes people around 15 minutes to fall asleep, so it’s important to be in bed and relaxed for sleep by 10:45 at the latest. If you have trouble falling asleep early, check out this article for sleep tips.


11:00 PM – 3:00 AM

This is the time of the gallbladder and then liver. It’s very important to be asleep at 11:00 PM and then all the way to 3:00 AM. During the gallbladder time, the body is doing cellular repair and building blood. During the liver time, the liver cleans the blood and release fresh blood. Similar to 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, from 1:00 AM to 3:00 PM, qi moves inwards to support the body in rest and repair.


Not sleeping during this four-hour time period will put a heavy burden on your body. Your energy and thinking would be weak during this time as well. If you have a lot of things to do, it’s healthier to sleep during this time and wake up earlier to work.


3:00 AM – 5:00 AM

This is the time of the lungs. Generally speaking, we should be sleeping during this time. It’s also important to keep our body warm during sleep because the lungs dislike cold. If you do wake up early naturally, and you feel energetic, then it’s fine to get up. It would be a good time to do breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation.

Conclusion

The TCM Body Clock gives us insight into which activities are naturally well-suited for which time period in the day based on the five element framework. From the body clock, we see many simple things we can do to optimize our day:

  • Waste elimination: We could poop easier if we do it by 7:00 AM.

  • Work: We are better suited for mentally challenging work from 7:00 AM – 11:00AM and 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM.

  • Nap: We naturally feel an energy dip from 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, so if you want to take a short 20-minute nap for example, it’s a suitable time.

  • Relaxation: We are suited for mentally relaxing activities like meditation in the time slots of 5:00 AM – 7:00 AM, 11:00 AM – 1:00PM, and 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM.

  • Sleep: It is crucial for our health to be asleep from 11:00 PM to 3:00 AM.


We can take advantage of this body clock to improve our daily activities, such as mentally challenging work, relaxation, eating, waste elimination, and sleep. The next article will talk about common treatments that a TCM doctor provides.



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