Thermostat wars

A common complaint in the workplace, aside from the usual bickering and office gossip, is about the temperature. You’re cold, so you bump the heat up slightly. Five minutes later, someone turns the heat down. Round one in the thermostat wars . . .

If you complain about being cold, and you are a woman and not overweight, invariably you will hear “You need to eat. Put some meat on those bones and then you won’t be cold.” (Not sure what people say to overweight women or men who complain of being cold.) Statements like this are not particularly helpful, and they may also be inaccurate.  There is a lot more going on in the body when it comes to thermoregulation.

Cold-blooded animals regulate their body temperature through behavior (such as laying on a warm rock). Warm-blooded animals rely on internal physiological mechanisms to regulate body temperature. In humans, body temperature is controlled by the thermoregulatory center in the hypothalamus and regulated at a set reference temperature of 37.5 ± 0.5 °C). (1)

The hypothalamus receives input from two kinds of receptors: receptors in the hypothalamus that monitor the temperature of blood as it passes through the brain; and receptors in the skin that monitor external temperature. The hypothalamus then coordinates the actions of the hormone system and autonomic nervous systems to dissipate or create heat in the body. The goal of the thermoregulatory system is maintain the reference temperature. (1)

Several conditions can influence body temperature, such as exercise, age, time of day, the outside temperature, digestion, and the level of water consumption. Physical activity can also increase body temperature. Individual factors may also contribute . . . a person’s set reference temperature may be higher or lower than the average. This can create greater sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures. (1)

In addition to the conditions listed above, cold intolerance can also be the result of a number of health factors, such as:

  • chills;
  • anemia;
  • low body weight;
  • malnutrition;
  • hypothyroidism;
  • anorexia nervosa;
  • vascular problems;
  • Hashimoto’s disease;
  • hypothalamus issues;
  • chronic severe illness; and
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon. (2)

Out of a total of 18 factors, only 4 relate to body weight and nutrition.

It is also worth noting that — when it comes to body temperature — your nervous system could be playing tricks on you. Researchers at the University of Florida may have found a reason why some people seem impervious to cold while others can’t ever get warm. “Some nerve cell receptors deep in the body are stimulated by signals other than temperature. These cells never come in contact with environmental signals like those near the skin but are studded with receptors that appear to get sensory input from hormones, proteins and other biochemical compounds within the body.” So the nerves feel cold without ever receiving an environmental signal. (3)

Bottom line — thermoregulation is complicated. There are a number of reasons why Nadine down the hall is always hot and you are always cold. So the next time you adjust the thermostat and comments are made, tell them “The feedback control system responsible for thermoregulation is very complex. It is the result of three main effector mechanisms — the hypothalamus, the autonomic nervous system, and metabolic effectors.” Then watch their eyes glaze over as they move on to discussing why Collin is always late to meetings.

1. Krapp K, Cebgage G, Ed. Thermoregulation. Encyclopedia of Nursing & Allied Health. 2002. 2006. Available at Accessed February 26, 2011.

2. MedlinePlus. Cold intolerance. Available at Accessed February 26, 2011.

3. Medical News Today. Why some people never feel cold while others never get warm. Available at Accessed February 26, 2011.

2 Responses to “Thermostat wars”

  1. A reader says:

    How interesting..especially about the nerves communicating ‘cold’ without coming into contact with an environmental signal.
    I am allergic to caffeine and when I have too much, my hands and feet become frozen but I may be in the middle of the noon-day sun.
    Ever get goosebumps thinking about biting into a peppermint patty? I do…brrrrrr.
    Maybe Kate’s always late because she’s looking for a sweater after downing a few boxes of Junior Mints.

    • laurajane says:

      Someone once told me “You’re brain is not your friend.” I shall simply have to “unfriend” my brain the next time it tells me it’s cold when it’s not.