Do you find that you feel more energised at certain times of the day than others? Or wake up at some ungodly hour every single night without fail? Maybe you get up first thing firing on all cylinders and then feel groggy and burnt out by mid afternoon? Or – and this is the ideal scenario – feel sleepy at night, rise and shine refreshed and feel energised all day?
Most of us experience some or all of the above fluctuations at some stage, or on a regular basis. The thing is, how well we function – while asleep, or emotionally, mentally and energetically during the day – may have something to do with how our body or biological clock – and our circadian rhythm. It also tells us which of our main organs – think liver, heart or lungs – may be out of whack and in need of a little TLC!
In fact, our body’s daily rhythms impact everything from mental alertness, hunger, stress and our mood to the health of our organs. By understanding our biological clock, how the body functions at certain times of day, and syncing it to our daily schedule, we can stay motivated, energised and productive all day, not to mention stay on track health wise.
To explain how this works, let me first define the terms ‘body clock’ and ‘circadian rhythm’. Our body clock is an inherent biological timing mechanism that controls a great deal of how well we function physically and is an indicator of how healthy we are. It is made up of specific molecules that interact with all the cells of our body. There are several different biological clocks in our body, including ones determined by age, fertility, our menstrual cycle – and circadian rhythm.
So the circadian rhythm is a result of our biological clock and it regulates the production of different hormones throughout a 24-hour cycle. When the sun rises, the body produces cortisol, which makes us feel alert. A healthy person will then become increasingly tired throughout the day until the sun sets and the pineal gland releases the hormone melatonin to reduce wakefulness.
Circadian rhythms also regulate hunger and digestion, body temperature, mood, fluid balance, and other important bodily processes.
The best way to explain how circadian rhythms work and how they impact our health is by looking at the Chinese Body Clock. This 2,500-year-old system relates the functioning of our internal organs during our sleep-wake cycle and is widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are 12 main organ systems in the meridians (energy pathways) of the body through which energy flows. This energy moves through these organs in two-hour intervals, which is when they function at peak. In the first 12 hours of the day, organs that keep us healthy and productive are involved and when we’re asleep, the body draws on its energy to restore balance, protect and repair.
Do you often feel dehydrated, moody or experience brain fog? This might be a sign that the energy of a specific organ is blocked or out of balance.
So let’s look at the main meridians and organ peak times of the Chinese Body Clock…
During this time, our lungs are at their strongest. Breathing aside, our lungs also work to transport energy through the body and strengthen our immunity. Coughing or wheezing is usually a sign that our lungs aren’t functioning as they should. And, on an emotional side, if you often wake up at this time then it could be an indication that you’ve been holding onto grief.
5am-7am: Large Intestine
It’s this organ’s job to expel waste from the body so it’s the ideal time to hit the loo! If you are constipated, drinking a glass of warm water first thing in the morning can help get things moving. I find a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in warm water also does the trick, which is why I include it in my TKS program as part of our morning ritual!
On an emotional level, the large intestine signals our ability to let go of the past and move on. So if you’re feeling ‘stuck’ or have slow digestion, I encourage you to venture outdoors, get moving and ramp up your water intake.
According to the traditional Chinese body clock, this is the ideal time to have breakfast – This is not quite in line with what I promote in my TKS programme, but we’ll get to this later! If your stomach feels full without having eaten, it can be a sign that you worry too much!
This power organ transports our food into nutrients, and directs that energy throughout our body. If it’s out of sorts, we may experience bloating, fatigue, loose bowel movements or feelings of despair.
The heart now works at its max to circulate nutrients and it’s a great time to have a nutritious meal. The heart represents peacefulness, so it pays to keep stress levels at a minimum, for example by participating in a restorative yoga session.
1pm-3pm: Small Intestine
Its’ this organ’s job to separate our body’s usable energy from waste and this is the best time to have a substantial meal. Emotions that are processed during these hours include feelings of abandonment, insecurity and vulnerability.
Our bladder works to eliminate liquid waste from the body. To keep it healthy, make sure you stay hydrated and add some Himalayan salt to top up the electrolytes. Or enjoy a cuppa of miso soup or bone broth!
Kidneys purify our blood and support our body’s natural cleansing process. When they’re functioning optimally, our energy levels will still be high at this time. If they’re not, your adrenals might be in need of some attention, for example by getting an early night’s sleep! This is also a good time to have a light meal and to practise some self care.
The pericardium is a protective, fluid-filled sac that surrounds and protects our heart, and helps it function properly. To support this heart healing process, I highly recommend winding down with a bath, meditation or reading a book.
9pm-11pm: Triple Burner
This is a good time to ease into sleep so that our bodies can perform their job of distributing heat and water throughout the body, in order to regulate our endocrine and metabolic systems and generate fuel for the next day. The endocrine system is responsible for homeostasis and balancing all the body’s intricate systems. When this system is out of balance, we may experience feelings of hopelessness or confusion, or wake up groggy the next day.
This is the regeneration power hour when the gallbladder works hard to repair damaged cells and build new ones. If you stay awake during this time, you may be prevent your gallbladder from properly excreting bile and digesting good fats.
This is one of the most important periods as it’s when the liver cleanses our blood and the body prepares to drive energy outward to fuel us the next day. If you wake up at this time every night it could be a sign that your liver is working over-time and it’s time for a detox!
Our modern-day environment is often anything but conducive to a harmonious relationship with our circadian rhythm! Think social events, family commitments and late nights at the computer. Not to mention lying awake all night because you can’t get the day’s stresses out of your head.
With that in mind, there are ways we can sync our body clock to our daily schedule and perform certain activities at the times when our organs are programmed for activity and energy release. By the same token, we can make sure that we slow down when our organs are in repair mode. By organising our days accordingly, I believe we can improve our productivity quite significantly, and with it our health.
Here are some tips and considerations for restoring your circadian rhythm.
Sleepy time: The body’s natural sleep cycle changes as we age, and tends to move backwards, so we go to bed earlier and rise earlier. Many of us will also find that our sleep becomes interrupted, especially during the menopause years or leading up to it. Getting up early so that you’re nice and tired by the time you go to bed may help with this. And you may also want to give napping during the day a miss!
Combatting fatigue during the day: Intermittent fasting, (yes, skipping breakfast!) and restricting our eating to a 12 to 15-hour window is not only great for promoting weight loss, it can also help keep fatigue at bay as the body needs to work less to digest. Also try to eat your last meal at least three hours before bedtime to take the pressure off the digestive system. That’s why I encourage our TKS ladies not to eat after 7pm!
Exercise: Exercising regularly can help regulate our circadian rhythm and improve the quality and duration of our sleep. The time we exercise is also important. For example, you might perform best when you work out between 3 and 6pm, when the body is less prone to injury. The ideal time to strength train is between 2pm and 6pm, when our energy levels are high and our physical strength peaks.
In the evening, when the body is relaxed and least prone to injury, is a great time for exercise that requires flexibility, such as yoga. And remember that exercise is also stimulating, so doing a high-intensity workout close to bedtime might keep you awake at night!
Brain power: Many people (excluding night owls!) tend to be most mentally alert late in the morning, so it’s a good idea to complete any tasks that require focus and concentration by lunch time. Generally, our cognitive abilities take a dive following meals, as the body is using the energy to digest food. That’s why I only have One Meal A Day (OMAD) whenever I have a super busy day, plus eating ketogenically also helps keep sugar levels stable and prevents mid-afternoon slumps!
Creativity: This may come as a bit of a surprise, but studies have found that our creative thinking and problem-solving abilities peak when we’re tired, as the mind tends to wander, prompting us to think ‘outside the square’ and come up with innovative ideas. So early to mid-evening might be the best time to get your brush and easel out and start painting!
A good bedtime routine: This is vital for preparing our organs for their nightly repair work, and to make sure we wake up refreshed the following day. I suggest keeping your room cool, and free from electronic devices as they may interfere with our circadian rhythm. I like to set the scene by running a hot bath with candles, meditating or listening to soothing music.
If you find it hard, like me, to shut down your mind, keep a journal next to your bed and write all your thoughts, worries and to do’s in there to offload for the night!
Also avoid caffeine later in the day – it takes five hours for the body to process half of the caffeine consumed, so I recommend having only one cup of coffee or black tea in the morning, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine like I am. Also limit or avoid alcohol for the same reason. Oh, and spending time in nature every single day is my absolute favourite recipe for a good night’s sleep!
For the serial insomniac: If you have trouble sleeping, try keeping a regular sleep schedule to help reset your circadian rhythm. By going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, your body will learn to adjust. Even if you can’t fall asleep when you’d like, set your alarm and rise and shine at the set time. Your body will soon get in the groove with the new rhythm and love you for it!
I hope this read will provide you with some useful tools so you can live every day of your life to the fullest, with energy to burn followed by a delicious night’s sleep.