“Cold hands, warm heart,” was Julie’s response whenever someone would comment on the chill of her extremities. And she meant it, both literally and figuratively. She considered herself a thoughtful person, one whose frigid fingers didn’t represent her warm disposition, or what was really going on inside her body. Her core temperature – that is, the physical state at which internal organs function best – was usually slightly higher than the standard 98.6 degrees. This was of little comfort, however, after she got married and started fighting with her husband over the thermostat. Why was he always warm sitting on the couch watching television while beside him wrapped in a Snuggie his wife’s teeth chattered? And why was this the same story among all of her friends?
In addition to the various ways we already know men and women differ, the anecdotal evidence regarding their contradicting body temperatures is actually based in fact. Women experience cold in their extremities, which makes them feel colder overall. Why? Biological temperature sensors are located in the skin and the subcutaneous fat layer is just beneath. (Stay with me here.) Women have a higher amount of body fat than men, distributed more evenly throughout their bodies. When it’s cold, women conserve heat by reducing the blood flow to the skin and moving it below the layer of fat toward internal organs where it’s needed most. In other words, despite the cold fingers and toes, women are actually better at conserving heat. It’s believed that since nature designed the female body for giving birth and then caring for the child outside the womb, this ability to keep the ‘core’ – the vital organs – warm was meant as a way to keep mother and child warm, too. For men, as hunters (and often gatherers), it was more important for hands to stay warm to grip the spear, pull the meat, tie the ropes.
However, there are other factors that come into play. At night, cortisol levels – which provide the fight-or-flight response – go down, allowing you to fall asleep easier but also lowering your inner thermostat. During the menstrual cycle, a woman’s core temperature may rise slightly, again pulling heat away from the skin. Anemia – low iron – also affects blood flow, as does a thyroid not functioning as it should. Most of these are issues that can be addressed with a visit to the doctor.
So women feel the cold more than men, period. Does that mean we can’t live together in the same house, sleep in the same bed? Of course not. It means adjustments have to be made to keep a couple cohabitating nicely. Snuggies are good, so are sweaters. Drinking more water to increase circulation can also help a woman feel warmer. Wearing socks to bed during the winter will definitely keep the feet toasty, and hot tea can’t hurt. But what about the guys? Isn’t this their problem, too? A man can shed clothing as easily as a woman can pull on a knit cap. And when it comes to bed covers, they can sleep under a sheet while their spouse piles on an extra blanket. Or he can buy a Twovet™, a bed comforter where one side is thicker (and warmer) than the other.
Outside in the cold, layers are better than a big, thick coat. Inside, it’s about compromise. When Julie was single, she kept the thermostat high. Now that she’s living with a polar bear, she’s agreed to turn it down well below 70 degrees and put on a sweater, while he’s agreed to hang out in a t-shirt even as he watches it snow outside.
The best relationships are the ones we’d fight to keep, so pick your battles wisely. Arguing over the temperature in the house isn’t worth the trouble, especially now that you understand the problem and know the solutions. Women do feel colder than men. Let’s move on.
How do you resolve your temperature differences?