“Why do I keep waking up at 3am?” I couldn’t figure it out. It was driving me crazy. I would go to bed exhausted, usually some time between 11:30pm and 1am, sleep a few hours, and then wake up with a mind full of stress, worries, anxiety, negativity, etc. When I looked over at the time, it would be around 3am. It was happening just about every night. It got to the point where any time I woke up, I was like “Oh, it must be 3am” and sure enough, when I looked at the time, it was 3:08 or 3:15 or some time right around 3am.
Of course, if you google “waking up at 3am”, you will come up with all kinds of different reasons including many that are supernatural or demonic (after all, it’s referred to as the witching hour). However, I decided to dig deeper. I had remembered reading somewhere that 3am is the time that the liver goes into its cleansing mode so I began digging around there. Soon I found myself learning all about the Chinese Body Clock.
The Chinese Body Clock is based on Chinese medicine and the body organ Qi(energy) cycle. It’s the idea that there is a cyclic flow of energy through the body that moves in two hour intervals through the various organ systems. See diagram above. Click on the diagram for a larger version.
So for each two hour window, there is an organ system operating a peak energy. As per – http://pathways4health.org/2010/03/04/the-chinese-body-clock-energy-patterns-through-24-hours/
“When one organ is at its peak energy, the organ at the opposite side of the clock, 12 hours away, is at its lowest ebb. For example, between 1-3 a.m., the liver reaches its peak, doing its work to cleanse the blood, while the small intestine, the organ responsible for the absorption and assimilation of many key nutrients, is at its ebb. What does this tell us? Principally, that it must be taxing to the system to deal with late night meals and snacking. The body is not programmed to accommodate the modern habit of late-night screen-based stimulation and the eating habits that go with it. When we eat late at night, food is not well absorbed by the small intestine and the liver has little opportunity to do its job of housekeeping.
The idea, then, is to try when you can to plan daily activity around an organ system’s peak energy, while avoiding actions that can tax a system when its energy is at its lowest ebb. Think of lifestyle habits you might modify in order to better synchronize your system’s energy ebbs and flows:
Lungs: With the lungs at their peak energy in the early morning, you might want to schedule aerobic exercise at this time rather than later in the day. And, if you must speak through the long work day, presentations given earlier in the day benefit from greater lung energy. Laryngitis can set in late afternoon when lung energy is depleted .
Large Intestine: 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.
Stomach/Pancreas/Small Intestine: Try to eat heavier meals early in the day—at breakfast when the stomach is at its peak, and at lunch, to catch Qi’s expanding/warming energy as it crests at midday. Eating larger meals of the day early delivers nourishment to the small intestine when it is strongest, which aids absorption and assimilation.
Kidneys: 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 a.m.-7 a.m., is when kidney energy is weakest—a reason that people with depleted kidney energy often have trouble waking up to a new day.
Liver: The liver stores and cleanses the blood, a fact that becomes more interesting as we consider personal experience. Have you ever partied too much in the evening, and awakened in the wee hours of the morning feeling “off” and unable to fall back to sleep? Chances are good that you were tossing and turning between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. when your alcohol over-loaded liver was struggling to do its work. The timing of the liver’s peak activity also speaks to consuming the last meal of the day as early as possible. The liver’s daily programming assumes an early dinner and bedtime. Before electricity and the light bulb, people ate supper and retired early, allowing time for the last meal of the day to digest so that the liver could be most effective in its peak hours of activity. The “work shift” of the liver, then, reinforces the concept of making the last meal of the day a light one that is consumed on the early side. The more time that passes after food is eaten before peak activity of the liver, the better the liver will be able to carry out its myriad of functions.”
I found that very interesting because I had a very hard time getting out of bed in the morning, and I also tended to eat dinner very late, usually making it my biggest meal of the day. Maybe that was why I kept waking up at 3am? In fact, nothing in my daily routine corresponded with the organ energy cycle. I also thought it was very interesting because I’m always trying to maximize how much I can get done in a day and in order to do that, it requires sustaining a good level of energy throughout the day. There were some days when I just had no energy, and I felt like I just couldn’t get going.
Before rearranging my schedule and my life, I decided to become more conscious of my body in relation to this energy clock theory. So as I went about my day, I kept in mind the various organ cycles.
I noticed that if I ever got gas (the intestinal kind), it was usually in the early morning, before I really woke up. I made it a point to look at the time – 5:30am. Hmmm. Large intestine cycle. My stomach would start growling around 8am. I always figured it was because I hadn’t eaten since the night before and it wanted breakfast which I always put off for another hour or two. Maybe it was because my body was in the stomach cycle? I always liked to sit down and get work done in the morning around 10am or so because I felt clear-headed and efficient. That corresponded to the chart. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t always peeing in the late afternoon. Bladder cycle. I thought “Maybe I should give this body clock thing a try and see what happens”.
It’s been over a week now and I feel great! I’ve made some adjustments to my schedule to correspond to the organ cycles and I’m kind of amazed by it. I go to sleep around or by 11pm with a 50 oz. bottle of water on the night table next to my bed. I set my alarm for 6am. I don’t wake up at 3am anymore but sleep straight through to 6am when my alarm goes off. I still hit snooze once or twice, but by 6:20 I’m usually sitting up and have started drinking the water. I drink about 24 to 32 ounces before even getting out of bed. I can literally feel it traveling through my system and hydrating my body. I have breakfast around 7:30 or 8am and make lunch at the same time. I get as much food related activities out of the way while I’m in the stomach cycle. Prepare snacks, clean the kitchen, plan dinner, etc. At 9am I’m at my computer working and being productive, getting stuff done. Once the heart cycle rolls around at 11am, I send and respond to emails, reach out to family and friends, head to my office, and have lunch. At 1pm, it’s back to work tackling problems, responding to emails and issues, and analyzing data. Between 3pm and 5pm, I love having a cup of tea and making more work progress, perhaps delving into some research and analysis. I now try to have dinner before 7pm and start winding down my daily activities by 9pm or 10pm the latest. With some quiet time to just relax and read before sleeping.
To help with staying on these cycles, I’ve been setting the alarm on my phone to go off at the start of each cycle from 7am until 9pm. Mostly just as a conscious reminder. Some days I’m truly amazed at how great I feel, how much energy I have, and how much I can accomplish. Other days, when it seems everyone in my world needs me to drop everything and solve their problems, it can be more of a challenge. Sometimes there’s no time for lunch before 1pm or no time for dinner until after 7pm, but I can adjust to live more in harmony with the cycles. The most amazing thing for me has just been the fact that I’ve been up, out of bed, awake and with good energy before 7am! And of course, not waking up at 3am anymore is an added bonus.