The Chinese Body Clock Explained

Analog clock

May 9, 2024

Essential Takeaways

  • The Chinese Body Clock associates specific two-hour time periods each day with the optimal functioning of a different organ or body system.
  • Many TCM practitioners use the Chinese Body Clock as a tool to help them diagnose health concerns.

The Chinese Body Clock is a framework used as part of the diagnosis process in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In TCM, Qi is vital life energy, and it moves through the universe and the body constantly. According to the Chinese Body Clock, Qi moves through the body with specified timing, spending two hours in each organ or meridian each day.

By cross-referencing the Chinese Body Clock and the time of day when symptoms occur, TCM doctors can begin to narrow down the organ systems that may be responsible for those given symptoms. By combining this framework with a range of additional criteria and knowledge, functional medicine doctors can create holistic and targeted treatment plans.

In this article, find out how each two-hour time period corresponds to an organ according to the Chinese Body Clock.

What is the Chinese Body Clock in Traditional Chinese Medicine?

The Chinese Body Clock, also known as the organ clock, is a concept that describes how the body's energy, or Qi, moves through the organ systems at specific times of the day. Each organ or meridian is believed to be at its peak performance for a two-hour window, during which time it is the primary focus for energy and functional activities in the body. In TCM, this cycle is thought to influence physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The Chinese body clock can play a role in TCM diagnosis. For example, in speaking with your Qi Health TCM practitioner, you may realize that your persistent headaches always begin in the afternoons, or that your digestive issues begin in the midmorning. Patterns like these can help your doctor discover which imbalances may be at play in the body’s given systems for that time period.

These insights will then help your practitioner create a targeted and personalized treatment plan for your specific symptoms. With customized herbal medicine, you can get on your way to healing.

How does the Chinese Body Clock Work?

The Chinese Body Clock operates on a 24-hour cycle in which each organ is allocated a specific two-hour period when it reaches peak function. During this time, the corresponding organ is at its most active and energetic, repairing itself and processing its specific type of energy.

The clock is designed to help maintain balance and health, suggesting optimal times for different activities like eating, resting, and exercising based on the organ that is most active during that period.

Chinese Body Clock Chart

The Chinese Body Clock is most easily understood in its true form: as a clock! The clock is broken up into clear, two-hour increments that each correspond to an organ.

Chinese Body Clock by Healthline


How the Chinese Organ Body Clock Works

In the Chinese Organ Clock, there are 12 two-hour periods in every 24-hour day. Each of those two-hour periods corresponds to a specific organ that is believed to be at peak function during that time. The timing is as follows:

3 am - 5 am: Lung

What It Does: During this period, the lungs are focusing on moving Qi throughout the body and purifying it by expelling waste such as carbon dioxide. It's also a key time for the lungs to heal and repair themselves, making deep breathing especially beneficial during these hours.

Associated Element: Metal

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Grief

What Happens When Imbalanced: Imbalance in the lungs can cause physical and emotional concerns. Physical symptoms might include asthma, cough, or allergies, while emotional issues could include depression or detachment.

5 am - 7 am: Large Intestine

What It Does: The large intestine plays an important role in the final stages of digestion and the elimination of waste from the body. Bowel movements help clear the body of toxins and waste that have been processed overnight. The function of the large intestine in this time period is crucial for preparing the body for new nutrients during the day.

Associated Element: Metal

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Sadness and grief

What Happens When Imbalanced: Imbalance in the large intestine can lead to serious digestive problems and discomfort. This could include constipation, diarrhea, or bloating, and it can also contribute to skin concerns like acne. In the emotional realm, imbalance with this meridien can involve stubbornness and an inability to let go of the past.

7 am - 9 am: Stomach

What It Does: The stomach is responsible for beginning the process of digestion and processing important nutrients in the body. Since the stomach’s power to break down food and access nutrients is at its highest during this time of day, TCM teachings suggest eating the most important meal of the day during this time.

Associated Element: Earth

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Worry

What Happens When Imbalanced: Emotional and physical wellness is closely tied with the stomach. When it is imbalanced, symptoms like digestive pain, irregular hunger signals, and increased anxiety can occur.

9 am - 11 am: Spleen

What It Does: In TCM, the spleen is crucial to nutrient absorption and blood flow. During this time period, the spleen is at its most active as it turns nutrients into energy in the body, circulating them via the bloodstream.

Associated Element: Earth

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Worry

What Happens When Imbalanced: The spleen helps govern clear thought and focus, so when it is imbalanced this can quickly turn to worry, overthinking, or mental fixation. Physically, imbalanced spleen can impact vitality and digestion, leading to symptoms like fatigue, bloating, sluggishness, and poor appetite.

11 am - 1 pm: Heart

What It Does: The heart is the king of all organs in TCM, making this time of day among the most consequential for overall physical and emotional health. The heart circulates the blood and houses the Shen, which is the spiritual being. It promotes peace.

Associated Element: Fire

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Joy

What Happens When Imbalanced: When the heart is imbalanced, physical symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, insomnia, or unpleasant dreams. Emotionally and mentally, a heart imbalance can cause anxiety, confusion, memory problems, or sudden outbursts of laughter.

1 pm - 3 pm: Small Intestine

What It Does: The small intestine sorts and absorbs nutrients from food, distinguishing between what is useful for the body and what should be discarded. It plays a critical role in transforming nutrients as needed, then distributing them throughout the body.

Associated Element: Fire

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Like the heart, the emotion linked to the small intestine is joy.

What Happens When Imbalanced: Physical effects of imbalanced small intestine meridian include bloating, abdominal pain, nutrient deficiency, and fatigue. Emotionally, this type of imbalance can contribute to indecisiveness, depression, and pessimism.

3 pm - 5 pm: Bladder

What It Does: The bladder is essential to the process of filtering and expelling waste from the body, which is crucial for detoxification, cleansing, and kidney function.

Associated Element: Water

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Fear

What Happens When Imbalanced: When the bladder is out of balance, people notice urinary tract infections, incontinence, and other urinary issues. Emotionally, this imbalance can cause a sense of ungroundedness, increased anxiety, and feelings of heightened fear.

5 pm - 7 pm: Kidney

What It Does: The kidney and bladder work closely together to detoxify the body. Kidneys help purify the blood and balance body fluids, chemicals, and hormones. Walking, stretching, and eating dinner are good ways to spend these hours.

Associated Element: Water

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Fear

What Happens When Imbalanced: When kidney energy is imbalanced, it is common to notice physical symptoms like fatigue, lower back pain, dry mouth, or issues related to urination and sexual function. Emotionally, this type of imbalance can lead to excessive fears, insecurity, and anxiety.

7 pm - 9 pm: Pericardium

What It Does: The pericardium is the thin sac around the heart. It is critical for heart protection and lubrication, and it helps regulate the heart’s interactions with other body systems. During this time of day, circulation is very active and it’s best to relax and unwind with a book.

Associated Element: Fire

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Joy

What Happens When Imbalanced: Since the pericardium helps protect and regulate the heart, symptoms of imbalanced pericardium are very similar to those of imbalance in the heart. Physical impacts can include palpitations and shortness of breath, while mental effects might manifest as emotional distress or a difficulty expressing feelings.

9 pm - 11 pm: Triple Burner

What It Does: The triple burner is unique to TCM and does not have a physical form. This concept divides the torso into three sections: the upper burner (respiration and heart functions), the middle burner (digestion and assimilation), and the lower burner (excretion and reproduction). The triple burner regulates the flow of fluids and qi throughout these three areas, ensuring harmony and balance between different physiological systems. It’s best to sleep during this time of day.

Associated Element: Fire

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Not associated with a specific emotion.

What Happens When Imbalanced: An imbalance in the triple burner can result in feeling confused, paranoid, and sad. Physically, problems regulating body temperature, issues with metabolism, and concerns around bladder control can all point to an imbalance in the triple burner.

11 pm - 1 am: The Gallbladder

What It Does: The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, which is a digestive fluid produced by the liver that helps break down fats. It is thought to contribute to muscle health and connective tissue health. The gallbladder is closely tied to the liver, which governs planning, decisiveness, and vision in TCM.

Associated Element: Wood

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Anger

What Happens When Imbalanced: When the gallbladder is not balanced, it’s common to see symptoms like bloating, gallstones, and muscle issues. In the emotional world, a gallbladder imbalance can contribute to a lack of confidence, poor decision-making, and timidness.

1 am - 3 am: Liver

What It Does: It’s important to be asleep during this time of day, when the liver carries out key functions like detoxifying the blood, regulating blood supply, and balancing emotions. The liver also helps balance hormones and circulate qi throughout the body.

Associated Element: Wood

Associated Chinese Body Clock Emotion: Anger

What Happens When Imbalanced: Liver qi stagnation and imbalance can contribute to abdominal pain, irregular periods, and headaches. Emotionally, this imbalance can result in mood swings, irritability, and depression.

How to Use a Chinese Body Clock to Benefit Your Health

Using the principles of the Chinese Body Clock can help you plan your days more intentionally and take advantage of the heightened energy of each body system at its given time.

Align Daily Routines

Creating your daily routine schedule based on this clock can help you make the most of your energy at any given time, while allowing the body to rest when needed. For example, planning meal times around the stomach hours can result in smoother digestion.

You can also consider the opposite clocks to discover which activities to avoid at certain times. For example, the opposite time for the lungs would be 3pm-5pm. During these opposite times, avoid putting strain on that organ.

Following a Chinese Body Clock Diet

Following a Chinese Body Clock Diet involves eating in harmony with the organ clock, and consuming foods that enhance each organ's function during its peak activity times. This approach encourages a hearty breakfast during stomach and spleen hours (7am-11am), a substantial lunch when the heart and small intestine are active (11am-3pm), and a lighter dinner to support the kidney and liver during their rejuvenation phases in the later half of the day.

Insight Into Your Body’s Condition

If you notice recurring symptoms at a certain time of day, the Chinese Body Clock can help shed light on the underlying causes of those symptoms. The best way to uncover these root causes is to talk with a trained TCM practitioner and be sure to report the times of day you are feeling each symptom.

Improve Your Health with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By leveraging tools like the Chinese Body Clock, Traditional Chinese Medicine strives to provide holistic care and address the true root of health concerns and symptoms. The best way to improve your health is to speak with a certified and reputable TCM practitioner like the professionals at Qi Health. They’ll listen to your concerns and goals, then recommend a thorough treatment plan and create a custom blend of herbal medicine designed specifically for you.

Get started with a free tongue diagnosis today!