Feeling Lost And Directionless In Life? You Might Not Be Sleeping At The Right Time

Day 9

by Gene Chuah

FORMAT UPDATE: Due to time constraints, from this point on I won’t be covering every detail I learned in class, but will be writing these articles in a more generalized way. They are not meant to be a replacement for class notes, but more of an introduction for readers new to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

This Chinese Organ Clock here below is my new best friend.


Initially I wanted to title this post “Why It’s Important To Sleep At 10pm” but I thought that sounded too boring (the answer to the title will be explained, read on). But really, this article is about going to bed on time, because there are SO MANY reasons why it’s important for your health and optimal functioning. It’s not about how much sleep you get, but also at what time you sleep and wake, because, try as you might, your body simply knows what time it is. Don’t ask me how, but we were designed this way, and after all, we are part of nature, part of the Universe, and undeniably tied to its cycles.

The “graveyard shift” is so-called, for good reason. In fact, many studies show that long-term night-shift workers are at higher risk for many diseases.

Your body is made up of several subsystems, each dependent on the others. They all work together like clockwork. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are called Organs, and may-or-may-not correspond to actual organs in the physiological sense. According to the Chinese Organ Clock, each Organ has a “peak time” during which the body focuses on it, sending more Qi and Blood to it, and it becomes “saturated” with this Qi and Blood in order to do its main processing activity. Some of these Organs require that you be in bed (laying horizontal!) and asleep; other Organs provide you with optimal energy for physical activity.

Other than having its “peak time”, each Organ also has its “low time” which is the exact opposite side of the clock, i.e. 12 hours away. This is when the Organ is at its weakest because Qi and Blood levels are at their lowest in the Organ.

Peak-time and low-time are actually one way of diagnosing and pinpointing a problem Organ. We covered many examples of this in yesterday’s class and the one before it. There are 2 key patterns here :

1. During Peak Time, an Organ that is weak/dysfunctional will not be able to handle the surge of Qi and Blood, and there will be Excess-related issues. Imagine a river that is not ready to handle a strong surge of water — it overflows its banks.
2. During Low Time, an Organ that is weak/dysfunctional will be overly depleted by the low levels of Qi and Blood, and there will be Deficiency-related issues. Imagine a river that is already so small and dried up — it cannot tolerate a drought.

Depending on the time of occurence of these symptoms, and the type of symptom (Excess vs. Deficiency), we can pinpoint the Organ that is weak/dysfunctional, and that helps us correctly diagnose and put together our treatment plan.

3AM – 5AM : Lungs (Yin Organ)
5AM – 7AM : Large Intestine (Yang Organ)

Best time to wake up is in this zone. The Lungs are connected to the Large Intestines via an energetic channel. They are both related in the sense of input and output, the Lungs take in while the Large Intestines let out. The Lungs are also connected to the Skin (see chart from Day 7), and in fact you will find that many traditional Chinese people wake up during this time to do breathing (Lung!) exercises (even singing) and “tapping”/slapping their entire body to stimulate their Skin. This is also good for healing Asthma, which is an excess/stagnation condition. This zone is also a good time to defecate (yes, poop). You need to throw out the garbage to make room, before you can take in the new. Don’t worry about making this work, if you’re sleeping at 10pm and waking at 5am, this will happen naturally and automatically. Even at 5am, when the time zone for Lungs has ended, you can still do the breathing exercises due to the energetic link between these 2 Metal zones.

7AM – 9AM : Stomach (Yang Organ)
9AM – 11AM : Spleen (Yin Organ)

Best time for breakfast, and it should be a big one too. Because the Spleen is linked to cognitive ability (clear thinking while working), it is important that you eat a good breakfast when the Spleen is at its most active and ready to give you its benefits.

11AM – 1PM : Heart (Yin Organ)
1PM – 3PM : Small Intestine (Yang Organ)

Best time to work. Fire Element represents productivity, like an engine chugging away, as described in Day 8. The Heart is also associated with self-expression. 11AM-1PM (Heart zone) is the peak time of day, and is the peak time for productivity and self-expression. At 1PM-3PM, it’s Small Intestines‘ zone, and just as this Organ is responsible for separating the pure from the impure, this is the start of the winding-down after the peak, to decide what can be done today and what should be left for tomorrow. This is a good time for a (lighter) lunch and also a good time for a nap (the Latin Americans have the right idea with their “siesta”!).

3PM – 5PM : Bladder (Yang Organ)
5PM – 7PM : Kidney (Yin Organ)

Time to start cooling down (energetically) or you will hurt yourself (engine overheats?). Yin is growing at this time, cooling the body. 5PM-7PM as Kidneys peak during this time, they “grasp” Qi from the Lungs and Heart (from Day 6). Kidneys, which represent physical strength/ability, are strongest at this time and this is actually the best time for exercise.

7PM – 9PM : Pericardium (Yin Organ)
9PM – 11PM : San Jiao (Triple Burner) (Yang Organ)

(We haven’t yet talked about Ministerial Fire, this is not a term we used in class, but I got it from other TCM sources. I assigned it the color purple arbitrarily.)
This is BEDTIME! Many traditional belief systems including Indian medicine, recognize 10PM as the best time for bed. The San Jiao (Triple Burner/Heater) is responsible for regulating energetic temperature (heat vs. cold) among the 3 Jiaos; at this time, to cool down the body. Its work is made easier if it doesn’t have to fight gravity, which means you should be in bed and horizontal in this time zone. The 7PM-9PM zone is interesting — the Pericardium in TCM is thought of as the Royal Guard which guards the Emperor (Heart), and is the door to intimacy, the home, love, safety, the “opening of the heart”, and sex. So this is family time, or time for love, before bedtime.

11PM – 1AM : Gallbladder (Yang Organ)
1AM – 3AM : Liver (Yin Organ)

This is the time to recharge through sleep. Wood Element pertains to vision, goals, and courage. The Gallbladder is tied to courage; the Liver to vision, pioneering, adaptability, exploration, new beginnings (Day 7). Steven Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) calls it “sharpening the saw”. Since the Liver stores Blood at its maximum capacity in this zone, it’s important for you to be asleep and dormant at this time. If you miss out on Liver Time on a regular basis, you will end up feeling lost, aimless and clouded.

Now on to a new topic we covered in yesterday’s class…

Pathogenic Factors : The Six Evils

- sudden changes of symptoms
- constant migration of symptoms
- upward and outward movement
- tends to attract other pathogenic factors

- Yin pathogenic factor which consumes Yang of body
- contraction and stagnation

- burning and upward direction
- swelling, ulceration, inflammation, even pestilence
- invasion by fire creates movement, stirs up wind, creates disturbance of Blood (think firestorm)
- consumes healthy/true Qi and impairs body fluids

- heavy, turbid/thick, lingering
- viscosity (stickiness), stagnation
- obstructs Qi circulation
- tends to move downward

- consumes body fluids
- interferes with descending function of Lungs

- extreme heat
- upward direction
- often complicated by dampness


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