If you find that you’re making frequent trips to the fridge as the weather gets colder, you may want to turn down the thermostat and put on another layer instead. Our internal body temperature has a lot to do with how we function, burn calories and ward off cravings. Find out how you can benefit from that here:
1. Activate your brown fat cells
A 2011 review looked at the acute and long-term effects of being in an artificially heated environment (like your warm and cozy house) compared to a cooler one. They discovered that a seasonally cooler temperature may have a dual effect on how many calories you burn per day.
Shivering expends calories, and indoor heating can put the brakes on that. When you turn down your thermostat it forces the body to generate more body heat, therefore burning more calories. This poses an interesting argument for keeping your thermostat in the 60F-range (around 15C).
A 2009 study showed that brown fat (BAT), which burn calories, activated when subjects were put into cold rooms without insulated clothing. Similarly, Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, a Harvard Medical professor who does research on brown fat, told The New York Times that people in a 60F room can increase their energy expenditure by 100-200 calories per day if they’re in light clothing. He explained that in this case, they aren’t shivering, but are activating brown fat.
2. Kick off the covers at night
Plenty of people like to feel cozy at bedtime, but a sleep environment that’s too warm can prevent the natural cooling that should take place in your body while you sleep. Without this cool-down process, melatonin and growth hormone release is disrupted, which means you won’t burn fat while you sleep, or benefit from night-time repair of your bones, skin and muscles.
The body needs to drop its core temperature in order for sleep to initiate normally. Research has shown that certain forms of insomnia are associated with faulty body temperature regulation so slipping under heavy blankets or warming up with flannel PJs may prevent you from heading into a deep sleep. Your best bet is to sleep in the nude or stick to light and loose fitting clothes only.
3. Cool your hormones
Many women experience changes in sleeping patterns throughout their menstrual cycles because of the changing levels of estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone heats up our metabolism while estrogen lowers body temperature (this is one reason women experience hot flashes when their estrogen drops during menopause).
The change in hormones, and body temperature, appears to alter our sleep patterns. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that in the second half of our cycle when progesterone — and therefore our body temperature — is naturally higher, less REM sleep happened. This is another reason to not only kick off the heavy covers, but to use natural hormone balancing therapies to keep your progesterone and estrogen levels balanced.
4. Keep your appetite in check
Long-term exposure to cold results in the release of hormones from the thyroid that can help to raise our body temperature by increasing our metabolic rate. But here’s the kicker: even after you've cooled your home and bedroom for better body composition, you may find that your appetite revs along with your metabolism.
As soon as temperatures drop, our appetite increases for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods that provide the instant heat boost our body needs. In the short term, these high sugar and high starch foods also help to boost serotonin, along with our body temperature.
In the winter, when we're exposed to less sunlight and cooler temperatures, our serotonin levels naturally decrease and eventually seasonal depression sets in. When we feel cold or depressed, we experience cravings for carbs to compensate for the low temperature and low serotonin.
Bottom line: In addition to adjusting the temperature on your thermostat, I recommend adding in one of these serotonin boosting supplements: 5HTP (50 mg, 3/day), St. John’s Wort (900 mg/day, away from food), rhodiola (200- 400 mg each morning) or inositol (1-2 scoops in your smoothie daily).
Also, don’t forget to bump up your vitamin D3 levels to 5,000 iu for the winter to keep your metabolism revving and, if you're currently on antidepressants, consult your health practitioner before adding any supplements.
Do you like to be cool or super-cozy when you sleep?
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.
For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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