Arguing over the heating? Here’s why you might be right
Feel like you’re fighting a losing battle over the thermostat? Here’s why you and the people you live with could all be right.
Darker nights and colder weather can mean only one thing – the battle over the thermostat (even more so now with the cost of living crisis in tow). One of you is notching it all the way up, with the other close behind turning it back down.
If you’re shivering under three blankets whilst your housemate is in their shorts and t-shirt, it may not be because they’re the next Wim Hoff – it could be down to something else entirely.
Both men and women feel the temperature in different ways. And here are four reasons why:
- Metabolic rate and muscle mass
- Basal body temperature
- The temperature of your hands and feet
There’s a reason that one of the main symptoms of menopause is hot flushes, and that feeling colder than usual is a symptom of hypogonadism - hormones are a key player in temperature regulation.
Different hormones can affect your temperature in different ways. Oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol all play a part in temperature regulation and could be the reason behind you reaching for that extra blanket.
Oestrogen and progesterone
Oestrogen controls the part of your brain that regulates body temperature and in general, oestrogen tends to promote a lower body temperature . This is also the case during menopause.
During and after menopause, core body temperature drops slightly, and the body spends less energy keeping itself warm (one theory suggests this may be a cause of weight gain post-menopause). However, despite having a lower body temperature, there may be moments when you feel warmer – this is because the change in hormone levels can cause the vessels in the skin to dilate, causing flushing .
Oestrogen isn’t the only female hormone that can affect your body temperature. Progesterone also has a part to play, which is why during certain stages of your menstrual cycle, you can feel unusually cold or warm (your body temperature is higher during ovulation and pregnancy and lower at the start of your cycle).
Testosterone is responsible for temperature regulation in both men and women, and when levels drop, you’re more likely to feel a change – one of the most common symptoms of low testosterone is feeling colder than usual.
You can read more about low testosterone and how to boost your levels in our blog: what is testosterone and how can you boost your levels? You can also read about the importance of testosterone in women in our blog: testosterone – not just for men.
Cortisol is the key stress hormone, and in a stressful situation will increase your body temperature with the help of adrenaline. Adrenaline (the mediator in the body’s fight or flight response) stimulates increased heat production in the liver, which in turn increases body temperature .
If you or the person you’re living with are experiencing long-term stress, try our top tips on how to de-stress.
2. Metabolic rate and muscle mass
You usually hear the term metabolic rate when discussing weight loss and weight gain, but very rarely hear it in association with temperature. However, your metabolic rate has a lot to do with temperature – several studies have shown that as your metabolic rate increases or decreases then so does your body temperature.
Your metabolic rate changes throughout the day. It is lowest early in the morning and slowly climbs up after you wake up, reaching its peak late in the afternoon – making rolling out of bed on winter mornings that bit more difficult.
But what does this mean for men and women?
Naturally, women’s metabolic rates are lower than men’s (women tend to be smaller and have a higher ratio of surface area to volume which leads to a rapid loss of heat), meaning they naturally have a lower skin temperature . And due to their (generally) lower muscle mass, women aren’t as quick to generate heat – scientific proof that women are not overreacting when they wrap themselves up in a coat the size of a king-size duvet.
3. Basal body temperature
Generally, men and women roughly have the same core body temperature of around 37°. However, studies have found that females do have a slightly higher basal body temperature .
This would suggest that women are naturally warmer, however, this is not the case.
Women who are used to being warm, feel colder in a cool environment. A bit like going outside on a winter’s day – you’re more likely to feel the benefit if you put your coat on as you leave the house, rather than acclimatising with your coat on in the house an hour beforehand.
4. The temperature of your hands and feet
This may seem like an odd point, but the temperature of your hands and feet can have a huge impact on the rest of your body temperature. When babies are born, it’s common practice to put a hat, socks, and (adorable) mittens on them. This is because feet and hands are ideally suited to keeping a stable body temperature because of their large surface areas and specialised blood vessels that heat up quickly .
Naturally, women have colder hands and feet than men , resulting in the rest of the body feeling generally colder.
So, it might be worth adding an extra pair of fluffy socks to your Christmas list this year.
What can you do to help raise your body temperature?
If you’re losing the battle over the heating or looking to cut costs this winter, it may be worth finding other ways to raise your body temperature. After all, we heat the human, not the home, right?
Ways to raise your temperature
- First things first, you could try raising your temperature through exercise, add a bit of oomph to your housework, or have a little dance whilst your dinner’s cooking.
- You could look at ways to boost your metabolic rate, such as increasing muscle mass and eating a healthy balanced diet.
- Treat yourself to some new socks or cosy slippers – the rest of your body will thank you for keeping your toes toasty.
- Check-in on your health – sometimes feeling cold all the time can be a sign of something else such as a hormone imbalance or a medical condition, such as a thyroid condition. If you’re feeling consistently cold, it may be worth talking to your doctor. You can also use one of our comprehensive tests to take a look at your inner health.
- Charkoudian, N. and Stachenfeld, N. (2016) “Sex hormone effects on autonomic mechanisms of thermoregulation in humans,” Autonomic Neuroscience, 196, pp. 75–80. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2015.11.004.
- Neff, L.M. et al. (2016) “Core body temperature is lower in postmenopausal women than premenopausal women: Potential implications for energy metabolism and midlife weight gain,” Cardiovascular Endocrinology, 5(4), pp. 151–154. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1097/xce.0000000000000078.
- Dhabhar, F.S. (2018) “The short-term stress response – mother nature’s mechanism for enhancing protection and performance under conditions of threat, challenge, and opportunity,” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 49, pp. 175–192. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2018.03.004.
- Codingest (no date) Body temperature and how it differs for men and women, Healthylife. Available at: https://www.simplysupplements.co.uk/healthylife/general-health/body-temperature-how-it-differs-for-men-and-women#:~:text=Men%20tend%20to%20have%20a,means%20a%20greater%20heat%20production (Accessed: November 23, 2022).
- Kaciuba-Uscilko, H. and Grucza, R. (2001) “Gender differences in thermoregulation,” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 4(6), pp. 533–536. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1097/00075197-200111000-00012.
- The roles of hands and feet in temperature regulation in hot and cold ... (no date). Available at: https://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1201&context=hbspapers (Accessed: November 23, 2022).
- Villazon, L. (2020) Why do women feel the cold more than men?, BBC Science Focus Magazine. BBC Science Focus Magazine. Available at: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/why-do-women-feel-the-cold-more-than-men/ (Accessed: November 23, 2022).