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There is a natural order in the world and within our own bodies. We call it the circadian rhythm. Our bodies are meant to follow a course in a specific order to help maintain structure and overall wellness in our lives. Adhering to an appropriate sequence allows us to maintain our health. However, all too often we push the limits.

There is an appropriate time for everything. There is a time to wake up in the morning, a time to work, a time to sleep, etc. Many people are said to burn the candle at both ends. When we are working excessively and overthinking, we often go to sleep too late and feel exhausted the next morning. As this pattern of behavior continues, we actually get used to sleeping fewer hours and appear, on a superficial level, to function just as effectively. However, the reality is very different. When we mess with our inner body clock, disease has an opportune time to set in. It is impossible to disobey time, as doing so puts an immense strain on the body.

In traditional Chinese medicine, there are twelve primary channels, also referred to as a network of meridians. We look at the circadian rhythm as a flow of Qi throughout the entire body over a 24-hour period. Every region of the body is reached as the energy circulates around the complex network. The peak flow of Qi lies within each meridian in two-hour intervals.

Often in my practice I can diagnose patients according to their symptoms by the time of day alone. As an example, people suffering from fatigue often feel a sudden drop in energy between the hours of 5 and 7 p.m. This is what we refer to as “kidney time.” The kidney meridian is responsible for a number of things, including keeping the pilot light on within the body. It warms the organs and meridians and channel network. It invigorates and gives energy.

When people are fighting their body clock and trying to push the limits, they often experience a cold sensation within the body and can feel a sudden energy drop at specifically this time of day, between 5 and 7 p.m. It is a classic time when people will reach for that extra cup of coffee. They are looking to give themselves a temporary, unnatural surge of caffeine as they feel they need that boost of adrenaline to get through the evening. It is often a time when the elderly need to take a nap, as the kidneys are often strained as we age. Utilizing acupuncture to nourish and support the kidneys is essential, along with moxibustion, an herb that is burned to warm the meridians and boost immunity.

An additional example of our circadian rhythm at work is very common for people who have difficulty sleeping. Many people with insomnia, who suffer excessive dreams or overthinking at night, often find they are wide awake between the hours of 1 and 3 a.m., tossing and turning. This is “liver time,” where the peak flow of energy resides in the liver meridian. Excessive stress on the mind and body has a strong effect on getting a peaceful night’s sleep. Children who sleepwalk or experience night terrors can often be found awake at this time.

These are examples of a counterproductive flow of Qi. When things are out of balance and not running smoothly, we can see the negative effects it has on us in our day-to-day lives. These are the signals our body is giving us that we need to get back to our natural clock and properly nourish ourselves with acupuncture, nutrition, a regulated sleeping schedule, and overall balance in our lives.

We can also see the normal flow of Qi when it works at its optimum and things are progressing and flowing as they should. When someone has a bowel movement during the hours of 5—7 a.m., this is large-intestine time. Many people who enjoy regularity at this time of day understand that this is part of their daily routine.

Travel is a key component in many people’s lives. Some people travel weekly for business. The typical symptoms of jet lag appear when your body is not right with itself, when the circadian rhythm is confused. Many people who fly often return from a trip feeling run down, catching a flu or bug, or just feeling exhausted. It is especially important for people who travel frequently to try to get their body clock back on track so that illness does not set in.

The best patients are those who realize that this is a partnership. These are my superstars. They understand that together we can make the biggest changes. By using acupuncture to help regulate the body and boost immunity, avoiding overworking, setting good sleeping patterns, and getting proper nutrition and exercise, we can ensure proper health.

Stop burning the candle at both ends! Together, let’s make sure you are not running on empty and let’s promote the body’s natural circadian rhythm for health and optimal wellness.