Do you wake up at a certain time every night for no apparent reason? If your dog isn’t barking, your kids aren’t coming into your room, and your neighbors don’t wake you up when they come home after midnight, then your wake-up calls could be coming from your organs and your body clock.
What’s a body clock?
The human body is a fascinating, complex, and holistic entity, so the answer to this question is twofold. First, our body clock, or the circadian biological clock, is controlled by a group of cells in the hypothalamus that responds to light. These cells (called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN) trigger various reactions in the body when the eyes perceive light and send signals to the SCN. Those reactions include hormone production, appetite, and sleep, among others.
Therefore, exposure to light has an impact on circadian rhythm. At night, as it becomes dark outside, body temperature declines, and melatonin levels rise, which promotes sleep. In the morning, sunlight triggers a rise in body temperature, and cortisol is released, which causes you to wake up.
But there is also the concept of the Chinese Medicine Body Clock, which is based on the concentration of energy (qi) and blood activity in specific internal organs. According to this system, our circadian rhythms are divided into two-hour intervals throughout the day, and each interval involves a certain organ or network of organs.
How can organs wake you up?
If you are waking up at a specific time every night, that means the organ associated with that time interval could be out of balance. Your body could be responding to that imbalance and disruption in function by waking you up. Your body is working overtime to restore equilibrium, so you need to listen. It’s important to listen because sleep is critical for restoring and maintaining the function of the organ involved and your overall health as well.
How do you listen to your organs and help with the restoration process? Let’s look at the organs involved during sleep and what you can do to help.
If you wake between 7 PM and 9 PM
For those early to bed, waking between 7 PM and 9 PM could mean your pericardium is under stress. The pericardium envelops your heart and provides both protection and regulation of blood circulation in and out of the heart. When your pericardium is out of balance, you may experience despair, nausea, phobias, nervous laughter, hopelessness, and a fear of intimacy and expressing yourself.
You can help prevent an unbalanced pericardium by practicing some self-care habits before retiring, such as massage, writing in your journal, meditation, or guided visualization. Reflect on your desires and joys and how you can best achieve these blessings in your life. Reach out and connect with loved ones either in person or on the phone.
If you wake between 9 PM and 11 PM
The organ affected here is actually the network of connective tissue that facilitates the transmission of signals moving throughout three main areas: the thorax, abdomen, and pelvis. This is why this “organ” is referred to as the triple burner.
Disruption in this network can make you feel confused, stubborn, suspicious, and guilty. These emotions can make it difficult to sleep. An unbalanced triple burner also is associated with adrenal dysfunction or fatigue, feeling burned out, tinnitus, nerve pain, edema, swollen lymph nodes, and a sluggish metabolism.
Since an unbalanced triple burner is associated with stress to your nervous system, you can feel anxious, making it difficult to fall back asleep. You can try these tips: go to bed earlier and practice calming activities, such as those mentioned for the pericardium. Before retiring also avoid exposure to artificial light (try wearing blue light blockers), news and social media, and anything else that makes you feel stressed. Using earplugs and a weighted blanket can be helpful as well.
If you wake between 11 PM and 1 AM
Your gallbladder is behind waking up during this time frame. This organ rules dreams and is involved in decision-making and judgment. An unbalanced gallbladder is associated with indecisiveness, timidity, bitterness, cynicism, and procrastination. Physically you can experience headache, indigestion, gas and bloating, anxiety, brain fog, dizziness, and cravings for greasy foods. Eating fried and processed foods can contribute to waking up between 11 PM and 1 AM.
To help prevent this untimely awakening, keep your last meal of the day small so your gallbladder isn’t involved in digestion during this time segment. Overall, include more bitter foods in your diet (e.g., kale, broccoli rabe, arugula, escarole), lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar. Eliminate or significantly limit processed and fried foods.
If you wake between 1 AM and 3 AM
The liver is featured during these early hours of the morning. Among its many tasks is to filter blood, help eliminate toxins, and regulate the balance of adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormones. Stress is no friend of the liver, so practicing stress reduction habits is strongly advised, as an unbalanced liver is associated with anger, irritability, resentment, and frustration. You may also experience high blood pressure, migraines, endometriosis, jaundice, blurry vision, thinning hair, acne, moodiness, and depression.
An unbalanced liver indicates that the organ is congested, so it’s not able to clear out toxins and other waste properly. Remember that wine you drank before going to bed? You probably woke up between 1 AM and 3 AM because that’s when the liver is trying to metabolize it. In fact, exposure to toxins (or harmful chemicals) from all areas of your life (health and beauty aids, air pollution, poor water, household cleaners) can result in a congested liver. Use natural products whenever possible.
A few other tips on how to avoid waking up between 1 AM and 3 AM are to avoid or limit alcohol consumption, practice deep breathing whenever you feel stressed, and exercise regularly (just not right before bed as it can be stimulating).
If you wake between 3 AM and 5 AM
The lungs are involved in waking between 3 AM and 5 AM. When their function is disrupted, you may experience sadness, grief, and thoughts of nostalgia. This may or may not be accompanied by shortness of breath, allergies, a weakened immune system, chest pain, crying, tiredness, and excessive sweating.
Another reason for this early waking is a spike in cortisol levels. This stress hormone is normally at its lowest level around 3 AM when it begins to rise slowly. However, if you wake up between 3 AM and 5 AM feeling anxious, your cortisol is spiking too early. One way to balance cortisol is to cycle your carbs (this includes fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, etc.): eat low amounts of healthy carbs in the morning, a moderate amount at lunch, and a greater amount in the evening, according to endocrinologist Alan Christenson, NMD.
Some people who wake up during this time frame may have allergies or a respiratory infection. If you are naturally an early riser and get up intentionally during this time, it can be helpful to practice meditation or deep breathing exercises to “wake up” your lungs. These stress-reducers are also helpful if you want to go back to sleep. If, however, you plan to stay up, light physical activity such as yoga, stretching, or tai chi is also suggested.
If you wake up between 5 AM and 7 AM
The work of the large intestine peaks during these hours. It works with the lungs to help eliminate toxins as well as emotional “junk.” Although this time span is a normal wakeup time for many folks, if it is not, then your large intestine may be out of balance. Symptoms of this situation include diarrhea, colitis, hemorrhoids, constipation, bloating, food allergies, and chronic fatigue. You also may be harboring deep feelings of sadness or a need for control.
To help prevent unwanted waking during these hours, be sure to stay well hydrated, get the recommended amount of fiber (25 to 30 grams) daily, eat more warm and cooked foods rather than cold and/or raw foods (which slow down digestion and intestinal motility), and exercise daily.
How can you reset your circadian rhythm?
You can take several natural steps to reset your circadian rhythm or your sleep cycles, which may help you get better sleep and prevent unwanted wakeups. Here are a few we recommend:
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Your body will adjust to the new rhythm you are setting. Give it some time; a few weeks may be necessary.
- Try melatonin. This hormone works to regulate sleep cycles. Although your body produces it naturally, taking a supplement may kick start a healthy rhythm for you. A standard dose is 0.5 mg to 3mg taken approximately one hour before retiring. You should consult with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement program.
- Exercise. This suggestion can work against you, so beware. Regular daytime exercise is strongly recommended because it can help promote sleep. However, avoid it at least two hours before retiring as it can have the opposite effect.
- Use bright light therapy. This suggestion is especially helpful for individuals who work night or swing shifts. You should discuss which light therapy device is best for you with a knowledgeable healthcare provider. The most common choice is a light box, but you can also get sunrise simulators and desk lamps designed for reorienting circadian rhythms.
- Change your meal times. According to some research, you can modify your circadian rhythm by changing your meal times. That is, eat earlier or later than normal.
- Stop using electronics or doing stimulating activities two hours before bed. The blue light from electronic devices tricks your body into thinking it should still be awake.
- Try magnesium supplements before bed or a warm epsom salts bath.
Let us know if you try any of our suggested recommendations. We would love to know how they worked for you.