TCM Horary Clock

The ancient wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine shows us how the waves of our bodies’ energy or Qi moves throughout different organ systems throughout the day. This energy and blood must be available to go where it needs to go to for the system to be activated, function and be restored.

This 24 hour body clock is divided into 12 separate two-hour intervals each correlating to 12 body systems. During each interval, our energy moves through the body to a specific organ system or meridian (energy pathway).

When the body’s energy in moved inward, we should be sleeping in order to regenerate and restore the energy. This inward energy starts at 3pm with the bladder, kidneys, pericardium, triple warmer (adrenals, thryoid, sex organs), gallbladder, and ends at 3am with the liver. These organs will function best when you are at rest so when you are awake and active in these hours, these organs may not work optimally.

After liver time ends, the energy cycles back outward to support the organs associated with activity rather than rest and repair, such as digestion and elimination. These organs include the lungs, large intestine, stomach, spleen/pancreas, heart and small intestine.

When one organ is at its peak, it is optimal to perform the activity of that organ at that time. So the stomach is at its peak from 7-9am so it recommend to eat your largest meal here. On the flip side, the stomach is at its weakest 12 hours later. So, imagine how stressful it would be for us to eat late night meals when the stomach, spleen and small intestines are at their lowest! Also when your blood has to focus on digesting when it is supposed to be working on rebuilding and detoxing, the liver and gallbladder won’t be supported optimally. This clock also allows us to use specific times of the day to our advantage, such as meditating between 5 and 7 P.M. when the kidneys are ready to rest and restore your energy.

Why do we abruptly wake or feel ill at certain times of the day?

The othermorning I woke up at 5:26 A.M. from a nightmare about my teeth crumbling out of my mouth! Yes, I know that’s incredibly strange – a fun fact about me is that I have insane dreams that involve everything from animals to aliens. Once I had a dream that I was a horse. Seriously! I was walking down the avenue by my house, just trotting on by, totally fine with the fact that I had four legs. Another time I had a dream that a teacher microwaved my tongue. I’ve never been normal, per say, so I suppose it comes with the territory?!

Anyway — the night I had the teeth dream I was a) dehydrated (drinking water is SO important) and b) constipated. TMI, but it happens to the best of us. I’m pretty sure (b) was caused by (a) because warm water with ginger and lemon upon waking did the trick. Regardless, both dehydration and constipation deal with the large intestine, which correctly lines up with the hours of 5-7 A.M. How fabulous is the human body? It is always leaving us clues in the forms of symptoms. Our symptoms are our friends; they are the language in which our body speaks. That’s why I love Chinese medicine… there are always charts and guides that allow you to translate these clues into the underlying issue.

As we discussed above, each “meridian” or organ system has a two hour period where they are the main player. The meridians, however, are not just related to organs. They are linked to thoughts and emotions, color, sound, seasons and other spiritual aspects as well. When the energy of a meridian is not flowing well due to a block (like stress or toxicity), you’ll find that you’ll experience a sign or symptom from the meridian involved (just like my nightmare/abrupt waking).

If you also find you are waking up at the same time each night, or falling into a slump around 3 P.M., you can look at the meridian at work and what may be happening with you. 

Meaning & Function of Each Organ System

Here is a detailed list of the function of each meridian/organ system as well as the emotions that go with it. This is very important. Sometimes if we wake up at 3 A.M., it’s simply because we have a purely physical issue, i.e. the liver is not processing waste correctly or is hindered by gallstones. However, sometimes, the physical symptoms are manifesting because of an underlying emotion. The liver is heavily associated with anger, frustration, and rage; so if you’re waking up at 3 it might be because you’re repressing emotions that you must work through.

(List of meridian functions below from

3am – 5am : Lung Time

  • Early stirring gentle breathing
  • Grief
  • Sadness

Mucus and waste from your lungs becomes loosened between 3 to 5 am, and when you awaken, this can be why you experience mucus buildup. Your lungs are trying to expel the loosened waste. If you are coughing in the morning, this indicates that your diet and lifestyle needs tweaking in order to reduce stagnation and mucus congestion. Feeling ill at this time can also be an indication of deep grief that must be dealt with.

5am – 7am : Large Intestine Time

  • Rising and defecating
  • Guilt
  • Stuck
  • Defensiveness

To get the day off to a good start, give yourself enough time early in the morning to honor the normal elimination function of the large intestine. The morning is the most important time to drink plenty of water and the worst time to have caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic and takes water away from your colon to the kidneys and bladder for evacuation, but your body need water in the morning to keep up its repair and maintenance of the large intestine and colon. If you are feeling bad at this time, drink lots of water. Drinking plenty of water at this time keeps you from getting constipated, gaining weight, looking and feeling older and improves your overall health. From an emotional perspective, you may need to let go of guilt.

7am – 9am : Stomach Time

  • Healthy eating
  • Disgust
  • Despair

Now the flow of energy moves to the stomach stimulating hunger. You are encouraged to eat a hearty, healthy breakfast in order to fuel your day and establish an eating routine that your digestive system can sync up to. Eating your larger meals of the day in the morning and afternoon delivers nourishment to the small intestine when it is strongest, which aids absorption and assimilation. Issues during this time may mean that your stomach is too “cold” – think low digestive fire (especially since we as a Western society love salads, ice water, and smoothies!) Be sure to drink ginger tea to nourish the stomach.

9am – 11am : Pancreas/Spleen Time

  • Thinking and working
  • Jealousy/Worry
  • Low Self-esteem

TCM considers the “Spleen” the most important digestive organ, so even a late breakfast will be digested easily. (Note that this is NOT the classic Western view of the actual physical organ we refer to as the spleen. TCM uses the word “Spleen” to describe the process of digestion itself, including blood sugar management and the release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas). On the other hand, this is also the time when allergies can show up the strongest because the “Spleen” is busy working with the Liver and your immune system. In western terms, a healthy spleen produces antibodies when there is an infection and constantly watches the blood for invaders.Illness during this time can mean your “Spleen” is deficient, or you are worrying/having self esteem issues.The spleen is also aided by ginger tea, the all encompassing stomach cure! ????

11am – 1pm : Heart Time

  • Meeting talking and eating
  • Joy
  • Frightfully Sad

Don’t overtax your heart at this time. You may notice a rapid heartbeat, increased stress (especially if you’re working on difficult tasks at this time), double beats and/or skipping beats. Research shows that there is an increased occurrence heart attacks occur during this time frame, so take it s l o w. Being full of joy, enthusiastic and restful makes the heart stronger, whereas the opposite emotions of saddness and gloom weaken the heart. Doing anything heat-inducing during this time is not good for optimal heart health as the heart has an aversion to heat according to the TCM. 

1pm – 3pm : Small Intestine Time

  • Sorting and organizing
  • Insecurity
  • Vulnerable / Gullible
  • Feelings of Abandonment

Have you noticed that between 1 to 3 pm you are more apt to have indigestion, pain and bloating? This shows a problem with your small intestine. Are you feeling insecurity, self doubt, or even abandoned? Do you have leaky gut? Bone broth soup can work wonders for gut issues and malabsorption.

3pm – 5pm : Bladder Time

  • Storing and reserving
  • associated with the Skin
  • Irritation
  • Timidity

At this time you may notice that you are tired and want a nap. Salty foods strengthen the Bladder, so drinking a cup of savory miso soup or nutrient-rich broth would be beneficial.

5pm – 7pm : Kidney Time

  • Driving and consolidating
  • Fear
  • Terror

The feeling of being tired and wanting a nap could continue into this time frame. On the other hand, when the Kidneys are healthy and working properly, you will feel energetic at this time and not tired. The kidneys are aligned with the adrenals, the glands that produce cortisol to help us spring out of bed in the morning. Early morning, from 5-7 am, is when kidney energy is weakest—a reason that people with depleted kidney energy often have trouble waking up to a new day.

7pm – 9pm : Pericardium, Circulation Sex Time

  • Associated with the brain, including the pituitary and hypothalamus and the reproductive organs
  • Socializing and flirting
  • Unresponsive
  • Hurt/Extreme Joy
  • Inability to Express Emotions
  • Depleted

Between 7 to 9 pm, do you have intense cravings for sweets or processed carbohydrates that turn to sugar immediately in the system? The reason is because the Kidneys regulate the Pancreas, and if you do consume sweets during that period, you may notice lower back pain, which is a kidney symptom. Poor circulation may also be a sign of ‘kidney yang deficiency,’ so a cup of hawthorn berry or licorice root tea as “dessert” during this window would be wonderful.

9pm – 11pm : Triple Warmer Time

  • Associated with the Thyroid and Adrenals
  • Controls Metabolism
  • Energy Transfer and Regulates Temperature
  • Relaxing and Chilling
  • Hopelessness
  • Confusion, Paranoia

The Triple Warmer governs Blood Vessels and Arteries. From 9 to 11 pm the blood vessels go into repair mode. If you get headaches, feel abnormally tired or weak, this means that the blood vessels are in heavy repair.

11pm – 1am : Gall Bladder Time

  • Sleeping and regenerating
  • Bitterness
  • Resentment

(Related to liver, see below) 

1am – 3 am: Liver Time

  • Deep resting and dreaming
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Rage

The Liver and Gallbladder spring into action between 11 pm to 3 am. Do you ever have nights when you can’t sleep at this time? This means that waste is not being processed by your liver and it acts as an irritant to your body causing insomnia and frayed nerves. Your brain just won’t stop. You may need to deal with unresolved anger and grudges towards others.