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 this is beyond the scope of this article. Here we will discuss the physical and emotional symptoms that arise if an organ is out of balanced. But keep in mind that if some of the symptoms don’t make sense (ie. kidney imbalanced showing up as premature greying of hair), just know that TCM is a highly developed and intricate form of medicine that differs from Western medical diagnosis.
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 emotionally associated with grief. You may find that 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’ physically and emotionally. Symptoms of malfunction include constipation, dry stools, skin rash, and feeling emotionally ‘stuck’ .
7-9am Stomach: The stomach’s function is digestion & breakdown of foods, so this is the best time to eat a healthy & hearty breakfast. If out of balance, symptoms that may arise include acid reflux, stomach ulcer, and bad breath.
9-11am Spleen: The spleen extracts nutrients from food, transforms it into energy and transports it to other organ systems. During this time, 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 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 siesta, and enjoy lunch. The heart dislikes heat (emotional & physical), so try to avoid caffeine, stress, intense exercise, or anything that raises your blood pressure. Symptoms of imbalance are 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 these times. 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. Some activities that support this are to have a healthy meal (but not too large) with a little salt for flavoring and love making, 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 you ease into sleep, such as meditation, light stretching, reading, or cuddling.
9-11pm San Jiao (Triple Burner): This is the second accessory organ system. During this time, to best support San Jiao, we should think about going to sleep during this time – 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 excretes 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.
(source – https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/wellness/what-your-bodys-trying-to-tell-you-when-you-wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night/ar-BBK1p15?li=BBmkt5R&ocid=ientp)
So why is it that we can’t seem to fall asleep, or why we wake up during the night and can’t stay asleep? Traditional Chinese medicine says the answer to that depends on specific times a person continually wakes up during the night.
Based on this idea, the different organs of your body stimulate specific emotions and spiritual states.
Sleep is highly valued and is a crucial aspect of our physiological well-being in Chinese medicine. One theory utilized by physicians to explain our sleep cycle is shen, which describes thought, state of consciousness and mental functions.
Our bodies were designed to follow a natural rhythm, and shen follows closely with that. It’s meant to remain dormant at night as we rest, and then become alert and excited during our daytime functions. When restlessness occurs during the time we’re supposed to be sleeping, our shen is over stimulated, thus causing sleeping problems.
If you’re regularly waking up around the same time each night, don’t ignore your body’s signals. Depending on when you’re roused from sleep, the organs in your body are trying to communicate with you.
Here’s what it means when you wake up during the night:
Trouble falling asleep between 9 PM and 10 PM: You’re stressed.
Stress seems like it’s practically a household term at this point. We’re constantly thinking about ten things at once and are expected to execute them perfectly. Yikes! When you lay your head down to rest, thoughts may be cluttering your mind that prevent you from getting a full night’s rest. Work troubles, getting the kids up for school in the morning, making time to maintain your health and exercise, the list goes on and on…
It’s recommended to combat this by practicing nightly meditation. This isn’t just for the gurus — you can definitely do it too. Meditation allows your body to enter into a state of peace and serenity, helping you to wind down from a stressful day. You can start by listening to a half-hour of calming music before bed. This helps to slow down your brain activity in preparation for a long night of rest. Additionally, take slow, deep breaths to slow down your heart rate.
Waking Between 11 PM And 1 AM: You’re experiencing emotional disappointment.
Traditional Chinese medicine attributes this time period to the gallbladder, which is part of what controls our emotions. Chinese Medicine Living states that the gallbladder is in charge of our passion for life, action, and assertiveness. When the gallbladder is balanced, we feel happy and content. But if you’re experiencing a lack of passion, problems with decision-making, or timidness, your gallbladder is out of sync.
Waking Between 1 AM and 3 AM: You’re angry.
Did your boyfriend forget to put away his dishes for the hundredth time? Did that annoying chick from work gloat about a job promotion in front of you? Did someone cut you off while driving to work this morning? Yeah, you’re angry.
Anger is associated with the liver. When we have feelings of resentment that go unexpressed, they build up over time in the liver. So when you try to sleep through the night, your body reminds you of this nagging sensation night after night.
In order to overcome this, it’s important to recognize your need to express emotion. When we let our feelings out, we have the ability to strengthen relationships as well as release negative energies from residing within our spirit. Holding it in leads to a constant heavy burden that will resurface at night during resting periods.
Waking Between 3 AM and 5 AM: A Higher Power is trying to tell you something.
This is the time when the lungs are most active. In traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs are responsible for moving energy through the entire body, as well as providing immune protection. They’re also known to signal states of depression and grief.
If you’re going through a difficult time in your life and can’t seem to overcome the grip it has on you, you may do well to explore the possibility of a higher power speaking to you. When you wake up during this time, take a moment to relax, breathe, and pray through the saddened moment.
Waking Between 5AM and 7 AM: You have emotional blocks.
When you wake up during the night at this time, your intestine is overactive. As a member of an imperfect world, you’re going to get hurt sometimes. Troublesome experiences can lead to drawing inward and relying on yourself, rather than risk it all to get hurt again. If you have trouble opening up to other people or can’t let things go, you may have an imbalance in the large intestine.
The basic purpose of the intestine is to receive waste and dispose of what we don’t need in our bodies. The physical function of this organ is closely tied to that of the spiritual aspect. The emotional purpose of the intestine is to “let go of those things that don’t serve us.”