Why We Fight Over the Thermostat

Myths, mysteries and frustrations over body-temperature differences

Robert Roy Britt
5 min readApr 19, 2022

Image: Unsplash/Dan LeFebvre

Temperatures rise around our house whenever my wife is too hot, or I’m too cold — or vice-versa. We clash over control of the thermostat, have heated discussions about whether windows should be open or closed, and wrestle blankets on and off the bed at night. Yet at any given moment, there’s no telling which side of the argument either of us might be on.

Why are our internal thermostats are so different? And why do our preferences flip-flop?

Turns out each person’s temperature tolerance involves a complex mix of genetics, body composition, physics, aging and various circumstances of the moment. Yet the scientific understanding of how it works has a history of inaccurate data and false assumptions. Let’s clear it all up.

Busting a big myth

Contrary to popular belief, room-temperature preferences are not strictly divided along male-female lines, says Boris Kingma, PhD, a thermophysiologist at The Netherlands Institute for Applied Science.

“It is in fact about people with higher body-heat production vs. lower body-heat production,” Kingma explains. “People that have a high body-heat production may prefer a cooler environment than people with a low body-heat production.” Heat production varies by individual, and it increases with exercise or other physical activity. “This is irrespective of sex or age,” Kingma tells me.


“Men tend to be a bit larger than women, and produce more heat than women,” he points out. “Likewise, young adults produce more body heat than older adults.”

Those are just two among many factors at play.

Skin temperature, for example, plays an important role in how we perceive warm or cold environments. Older research indicated that women have lower skin temperatures than men. However, in normal settings, “there is no difference in mean skin temperature for men vs. women,” Kingma says. Yet as temperatures swing significantly, women may tend to notice it more (again, other factors being equal).

“Due to being smaller and producing less body heat, the female body shows cold…

Robert Roy Britt

Founder/editor of Wise & Well on Medium & the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com & author of Make Sleep Your Superpower amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB