Cool news. Why you should turn DOWN your heating (even during today's great freeze!)

  • Heating your home to a chilly 16 degrees could cut your risk of type-2-diabetes
  • A cooler home has also been shown to improve sleep quality and length  


Turning the thermostat down a few degrees may not sound comfortable, especially during today's great freeze. But a chilly home could be the secret to cutting your chances of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as getting better sleep.

That's according to Professor Hannah Pallubinsky, a researcher at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who studies the effect of temperature on the body.

Cuts type 2 diabetes risk

Turning your heating down slightly, could help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to Professor Pallubinsky.

One of her studies involved exposing volunteers to 14 to 15C (57.2 to 59F) — a relatively cold room — for six hours a day over ten days.The researchers took measurements of glucose metabolism — how quickly excess sugar is removed from the blood — before and after the cold exposure. Results showed participants marked improvements in glucose metabolism after the study. People were up to 40 per cent better at controlling their blood glucose levels.

Speaking on Dr Michael Mosley's BBC podcast Cold Therapy, Professor Pallubinsky said: 'This was due to something called glucose transporter 4. We saw much more of that in muscle cells after cold acclimation. 

'It's a protein that can remove glucose from the bloodstream more quickly, which is a positive thing as that can really improve glucose metabolism.' 

However, experts recommended that those hoping to harness the health benefits of cooler temperatures should start by turning the thermostat down just a couple of degrees for a few hours a day before building up to longer and colder. Being too cold can trigger hypothermia, which young and old people are especially vulnerable to. 

People with heart problems should also be extra careful, as blood vessels constrict in response to the cold, which can cause blood pressure and heart raise to rise.

Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease  

Spending time in a cooler environment may also lower the risk of heart disease.

That could be because brown fat can increase when the body adapts to the cold, according to Professor Pallubinsky's study. Brown fat is thought to reduce cholesterol, combat obesity and reduce blood pressure, all of which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Professor Pallubinsky told the podcast: 'Brown fat is called brown fat because when you look at it under the microscope, it has lots of these little energy factories called mitochondria, which have a brown-ish colour.' These cells can make heat to maintain the body's 37C (98.6F) internal temperature. 

Unlike white fat, which is seen in abundance around midriffs, bottoms and chins, the brown type is invisibly and compactly distributed deep inside, especially around the shoulder blades, spine and kidneys. It is thought to be strategically located to keep important organs warm.

A cooler room means deeper sleep 

A cold room can provide the perfect conditions for the best night's sleep.

That's because it could help the body naturally cool down when it's time to sleep and make it easier to fall into a deep sleep. A cooler room temperature can make it easier to fall asleep, as it is working in concert with the body's biological clock. 'So, when the core body temperature rhythm starts to decline, by about 1C, the body is telling you this is the time you should be sleeping,' she told the podcast.

'At night time our body temperature reduces, this happens around the time we want to go to bed, it is almost a signal for us to go to sleep,' said Professor Kathryn Reid, an expert in neurology at the Centre for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois.

How the COLD can be good for you (yes, really!)

'We want to synchronise our activities around what our body is telling us to do.' Dr Reid recommended making the room you sleep in cool, dark and quiet by either turning the thermostat down, opening a window or turning on a fan.

One study, raised in the podcast, saw healthy volunteers sleep in either a 17C (62.6F) or 22C (71.6F) room. The volunteers who slept in the cooler room spent a higher percentage of the night in the deepest stage of sleep, called N3. This stage of sleep is vital for memory, brain health, tissue repair and strengthening the immune system. The cooler room also helped people spend more time in a REM cycle, which is important for consolidating memories.  

Another trail, published in 2012 in the journal Sleep, studied 40 people suffering from constructive sleep apnoea, a disorder that causes breathing to stop and start, interrupting sleep. Participants slept in a lab for three nights either with a temperature of 16, 20 or 24C (60.8, 68, 75.2F). Researchers found those that slept at 16C slept significantly longer and spent less time awake. 



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