The Impact of Minding the 24-Hour TCM Body Clock on Health

Lately, one of the biggest reasons I’ve been dealing with chronic hyper-sympathetic syndrome – in which the mind cannot stop racing and calm down – despite habitually using meditation and breathing practices, is not paying mind to the Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) 24hr organ health clock.

This is a 24-hour biological “body clock,” in which two-hour periods are designated to the 12 major organs, which correspond to the 12 energetic meridians in TCM. It’s believed that during these two-hour intervals, Qi flows most strongly through each of the respective organs the timeframe pertains to.

As each organ regulates different body functions or mechanisms in TCM, there are recommendations for conduct or activities that should or shouldn’t be carried out during each particular interval.

Since it is on a continuum, I suppose it doesn’t really matter which period I begin explaining first, but I think chronologically it makes the most sense to start with the early morning hours, one of the times in which I experience the most issues.

For one thing, I discovered that waking up consistently between 4-5:30am – as I typically do – is probably more than just having to pee. As these hours are when the organs that are in charge of letting go are active – the lungs (Lu), 3-5a, and large intestine (LI) 5-7a) – waking during this time indicates an inability to either let go of past events, or to voice an opinion.

In my case, it’s probably due to a bit of both.

I’m fairly cognizant of what the inability to let go is rooted in, as they are occurrences that continue to play out over and over in my head. But which opinion I’d had difficulty voicing is a bit more challenging to pinpoint. My best guess is it’s something pertaining to the Covid-19 plannedemic—most likely how it was an orchestrated affair. However, it seems keeping this opinion largely to myself – for multiple reasons – may be to the detriment of society, and evidently, to my own.

Also relating to letting go, a bowel movement in the early morning hours during large intestine (LI) time is optimal, before waking up the stomach during stomach (ST) time between 7-9am.

I certainly don’t seem to have an issues in this regard during this interval, especially after the first few sips of coffee have been taken.

Speaking of coffee, I like to make sure I’ve had a few glasses of water before the first cup of joe, as I’m generally fairly parched after not drinking more than a few sips over the course of the night when I’m mostly asleep.

Room-temperature water w/ lemon is best to replenish electrolytes and vitamin C, and literally (re)charge your body, but seeing as I’m in Mexico and lemons are tough to come by, I opt for lime instead. However, this isn’t just a morning routine, I add lime to every glass of water I drink, at least while I’m at home.

One activity recommended during this time – which I never do – is to have a body-nourishing breakfast, in order to create energy for spleen (SP) time from 9-11am, when it’s best to perform mental and/or physical (exercise) work.

The spleen regulates muscular activity, and sends clear Qi to brain for focus and concentration. If someone is energy-deprived in the morning after they’ve gotten a good night’s rest (8-10hrs), they are thought to be spleen Qi-deficient. No hunger in the morning hours also signifies a spleen or stomach Qi deficiency, or a Yang deficiency if the person also feels cold.

Most readers are probably familiar with the Chinese Yin Yang symbol, especially if you grew up the ’90s, which symbolized balance, or duality (e.g.,  light and dark, fire and water, expansion and contraction).

Yang in particular is associated with heat, fire, hardness or metal, and male energy. Hence why feeling cold signifies a Yang deficiency.

Heart (Ht) time is from 11a-1p, in which it’s advised to do something that will make the heart joyful, and avoid activities or substances that will promote anxiety, stress, and palpitations, like caffeine or social media consumption . For example, some choice activities would be to go for a walk or have lunch with friends, or at least with someone who’s company you enjoy.

One thing I’ve been successful in achieving is cutting off the caffeine consumption at 11am. And I’m not compensating it by ingesting more prior to that cutoff time. I’ve weened myself down to about three cups per day, from my previous average of five.

No matter what, lunch – the biggest, most important meal of day in TCM – should be eaten mindfully. A code of conduct for another activity which I haven’t been carrying out.

I almost always watch something on YouTube during lunch, but knowing what I know now, I’m going to at least switch it up to listening to a podcast, or better yet, reading or ideally, writing—creating over consuming.

1-3p is small intestine (SI) time, which is in charge of – along with the bladder – regulating fluids in the body. The small intestine specifically is in charge of separating the clear fluid from the turbid, which is reabsorbed and utilized as electrolyte-containing hydrotherapy fluid, while the former is excreted by the bladder.

That 2:30 feeling? Well, contrary to what many believe, that’s not just an energy crash from being up since the crack of dawn. It’s severe dehydration, something I myself am guilty of. Mine usually creeps in after 3pm, during bladder (Bl) time between 3-5p.

Drinking sufficient water during this time is highly advisable, especially considering it is thought to be when liquid waste it purged and energy is restored, so replenishing fluids is essential.

As 5-7p is kidney (Kd) time, this should ideally be a time for connecting with family and friends. Post-work “taxi driving”, i.e., relentless running around town, depletes adrenals, effects cortisol and results in the inability to calm down (what’s effectively known as chronic hyper-sympathetic syndrome, which I referenced earlier).

This is another timeframe where my actions have been contradictory to what they should be for optimal health or relaxation response parasympathetic activation. Even though if on the off chance I’m going to call my parents, this is the time I always do it, I am typically the taxi driver-type during this time window, running errands – like going to the market – generally leaving around 5pm.

I always viewed this as a good time to be active, as it allowed me early and mid-afternoon time to decompress from writing or working in the morning and fit in a lengthy qigong session, not to mention it provided more reprieve (shade) from the sun than early afternoon, and allowed the foot traffic at the market to subside substantially. But after this discovery, I think I may switch to tackle priorities about town in the early afternoon and practice Qigong in the evenings before dinner.

7-9p is pericardium (Pc) time, and should be the time for doing activities that “make your heart sing” in a calming way. This includes things like Yin (the calming, nurturing energy) yoga, stretching, breathing exercises, light reading, listening to calming music, or taking a bath.

Most importantly, don’t be on devices getting dopamine overstimulation and blue light exposure—also something that is a work-in-progress for me.

Once again, another TCM interval where I was doing the opposite of what I should have been— though I use night mode on both my laptop and phone, realized the reason I may be having so many sleep issues is due to waaay more stimulation during this time than I should have. Everything from fantasy sports to preoccupation with the music and organizing my library. And typically, the music selection is not in the realm of what it should be…

At least I’m usually done eating by 7pm since I know the benefits of allowing yourself sufficient time to digest your last meal before bed, allowing the liver (Lv) sufficient time to optimally do its thing during liver time (1-3am). Eating an early, light dinner also allows me to break my fast earlier in the morning. So food is one less dopamine trigger I’m afflicted with have during this timeframe.

San Jaio (SJ) is the container of all the organs (also known as the triple burner). Thus, this timeframe – 9-11p – is when you put all your organs to rest. These hoursare when the body does its endocrine and metabolic balancing.

It’s recommended to settle down for bed closer to 9-9:30 in winter, and later in summer when days are longer. Ideally, before 10:30—if you slept from 12-8a, the quality of sleep would be inferior to eight hours starting at 10p (to 6a).

I’m almost always in bed and fast asleep by 11p, which is key because being awake during gallbladder (GB) time between 11p-1a, depletes the gallbladder and makes decision-making difficult. And that’s not how you want to start your day.

You can certainly use this time for journaling, meditating, or breathing, but it’s more effective to do these activities a few hours earlier during pericardium time, or in the early am when you have a tranquil environment and your mind is fresh.

So there you have it. I hope this post provided some insight into the 24 hour body clock, and heeding it – if you so choose – helps bring you improved wellbeing and serotonin, and decreases your stress and cortisol levels, as it has for me.


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