The afternoon slump and Chinese medicine

Tired businesswoman sleeping on the desk, in front of the computer screen.

Do you feel tired in the afternoons? Do you get a slump of energy between 3 and 5 pm? Or perhaps you feel tired between 5 and 7 pm? Chinese medicine can help us to understand why this happens.

According to Chinese medicine, the 24 hour clock is divided into twelve 2-hour segments, each relating to a meridian (energy pathway in the body) and its corresponding organ. During its specific timeslot, the meridian + corresponding organ are at their most active. The timeslot of 3 – 5 pm relates to Bladder meridian + organ, and 5 – 7 pm relates to Kidney meridian + organ. It is important to bear in mind that the Chinese medicine view of the organs is more expanded than the Western medical view. Thus, for ease of distinction, when referring to the organs and meridians from the Chinese medicine perspective, we use an initial capital letter (Bladder, Kidney), whereas when referring to the physical organ from the biomedical point of view, we use an initial lower case letter (bladder, kidney).

In Chinese medicine, the Kidneys represent far more than their physical role as a filtration plant. They store the Qi (pronounced “chee” and meaning life-force energy) that we inherit from our parents before we were born (this is referred to as our Pre-Natal Qi). The amount of this Pre-Natal Qi is finite and when it is used up, we die. The function of Bladder also goes far beyond the storage of urine. As Kidney’s partner in the Water Element, the role of Bladder is to ensure the best utilisation of the resources stored in the Kidneys in a way that will most optimally support our progress through life.

Once we are born, we obtain Qi from food and the breath (this is referred to as our Post-Natal Qi). Any Post-Natal Qi not immediately used by the body will also be stored in the Kidneys, along with the Pre-Natal Qi. The combination of Prenatal Qi and Postnatal Qi provides the totality of the body’s power to perform all the vital processes of life.

If we can derive enough Qi from the food we eat and from the air we breathe, then that is the Qi that enables us to go about our daily activities. However, if we lead a busy, stressful life, we may not eat as well as we might and we probably don’t breathe to our full capacity (we are all familiar with the shallow breathing that accompanies stress). All this means that we will not derive the amount of Qi we need from food and the breath on a daily basis. And when there is insufficient Post-Natal Qi to keep us going, we start to dip into our reserves of Pre-Natal Qi, i.e. our finite supply.

In order to live a long and healthy life, we want to preserve our finite reserves of Pre-Natal Qi. This means that we don’t want to draw on those reserves too often. The more we dip into our Pre-Natal Qi, the more depleted our energy reserves become. So it makes sense that we would want to support the Kidneys (where the Qi is stored) in order to maintain these reserves. How do we do that? Eating nutritious food and breathing more efficiently are obvious ways that we can boost our Post-Natal Qi, so that we have enough of that immediate Qi to draw upon as our primary source. We can also take good care of ourselves in general, responding to the needs of our body and mind – for example, eating when we’re hungry (not too much, not too little), drinking plenty of water so we don’t become dehydrated, taking some quiet time out of a busy day and resting when we are tired.

As we have seen, Bladder time is between 3 and 5 pm and Kidney time is between 5 and 7 pm, and these are times when many of us feel tired. In order to preserve our energy reserves, the best time to take a rest or do some form of restorative practice is therefore between 3 and 7 pm. These restorative practices might include meditation, some form of relaxation or Qi Gong.

I began writing this blog at about 5 pm. I started to feel tired and so decided I should practise what I’m preaching here! I went to lie down for 15 mins and listened to a binaural beats recording (binaural beats are said to entrain your brainwaves enabling you to reach a state of relaxation). While lying down, I did a couple of EEM techniques to help me relax further: the Forehead/Adrenal hold and then the 2nd and 4th chakra hold (see my previous blog for details of these and other energy medicine techniques you can do lying down: Afterwards, I did a Crown Pull to move stuck energy out of my head. I then got up and did the Four Thumps (to boost my energy) followed by the Crossover Shoulder Pull (to get my energies crossing over) and Connecting Heaven and Earth (to stretch my body, to allow energy to move freely through it and to ground me). My whole relaxation/exercise time took about 20 mins. Beforehand, I had felt tired and felt the need to have cup of tea to keep me going. Afterwards, I felt revived and didn’t feel the need for a caffeine boost.

Of course, not everyone is in a position to take a rest between 3 and 7 pm, but even taking a few minutes to do some EEM exercises can help revive you. If we push against what our body needs, i.e. we keep going when we need to rest, we deplete our reserves of energy. If we go with what our body needs, we don’t need to draw so much on our reserves. Looking at it from a Chinese medicine perspective, taking a rest when we need to actually means that we’re prolonging our life. Something worth bearing in mind when we think we haven’t got time to rest!

Videos of EEM exercises

The Crown Pull
(Video is 1 min)

The Four Thumps
(Video is 1 min 12 secs)

The Crossover Shoulder Pull
(Video is just over 1 min)

Connecting Heaven and Earth
(Video is 1 min 20)

Further resources

Guided meditation – The Sacred Breath, Tara Brach
Take time out from your busy schedule to pause for 4 minutes while Tara Brach guides you through a simple meditation to help you release tension.

See Tara Brach’s website for a wide range of guided meditations, which can be downloaded for free:

Guided Meditations

Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This breathing exercise reduces stress and can help you fall asleep. Dr Weil describes it as “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system”.
(Video is 5 mins 37)

Chinese medicine

Short video (just over 2 mins) on “What is Qi”?

Article on the “Chinese Clock”

The Chinese Clock: The Perfect Time for Everything

Overview of Chinese Five Element theory


Leave a Comment