It’s late September, which means that summer temperatures are starting to peak around the country, including in L.A. where I reside. A lot of people can apparently take this in stride; my own girlfriend claims to “love” the heat, which is unfortunate given that I want to commiserate with someone over how miserable being hot is.
All my life, I’ve felt like I “run hot.” Growing up in Hawaii probably did no favors — it’s a place where you can sweat in the shade, crushed by 90 percent humidity and a blaring sun. So unless I’m headed into the heat for recreational fun, I’ve always preferred a setting with cool air on my skin. In fact, my nightmare is sleeping through peak summer nights without A/C. How can one human lay there comfortably while the other sweats out his ass for seven hours?
On one hand, there’s no consensus that proves two people of a similar body size (in terms of surface area and mass) can feel significantly different levels of heat. But obviously, each person’s body is unique, and the sensation of hot and cold can change depending on a variety of hormonal and cardiovascular reasons. That’s part of the reason why women often feel colder than men.
Further, while it’s the hypothalamus in the brain that keeps all of our cores at 98.6, the feeling of temperature is actually registered by receptors on the skin. As for what this means in a gender context, men typically have more muscle mass than women, and burn more calories to support that muscle. In turn, as the heat of that burn evaporates, it warms the receptors on the skin. On the flip side, less muscle means less heat evaporation and a chillier feel.
“Basically, men generate their own little heat islands, kind of like walking space heaters,” physician Rob Danoff told Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine. “But since women typically have less muscle mass and evaporate less heat through the pores in their skin, they might feel colder than men in a room with the same air temperature.”
Of course, thin men can get colder more quickly than bigger men, and factors like blood pressure can also affect the sensation. Not eating enough or being dehydrated certainly hurts, too. And those with thyroid issues know that hormone imbalances can trigger all sorts of heat and cold waves.
So no, the office conflict over the thermostat isn’t just about personal taste or the clothes we wear, but rather the inevitable ways our bodies differ, even with the same base chemistry. It’s about culture as well. Shockingly, a lot of homes in balmy ol’ Hawaii lack air conditioning, because many people think of it as a luxury when just opening windows to the Pacific breeze can suffice. And a lot of people around the world live with A/C as a treat for malls, museums and movie theaters, not a regular amenity. That makes my physical craving for cool air more of a byproduct of a weak mind and two decades of literal conditioning than anything else.
Not to mention, as one Yale study found, it might be better for my spirits to stay on the warmer side, anyway.