In homes that aren’t properly insulated, freezing winter temperatures can make residents really uncomfortable. That chill can creep right into your bones and cause aches and shivers that’ll keep you awake all night.
Unfortunately, discomfort is just the beginning of the problems that low indoor temperatures can cause for residents. Infants, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions are most at risk, but no one is safe in a frigid home. Following are the most worrisome problems caused by constant exposure to cold, plus a few strategies for warming up.
1. Sleep Disturbance
Sleep is such a critical part of life that we would literally die without it. So going for weeks or months without an uninterrupted night of restorative sleep can cause a host of problems. Weakened immune system, mood changes, and focus issues are just the beginning. Poor sleep is also associated with conditions like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
If you find that you struggle to fall asleep or to stay asleep, it may be too cold. You might also be missing truly restorative sleep if you find that you’re exhausted all day, even if you weren’t aware of waking repeatedly throughout the night.
Experiment with an electric blanket, hot water bottle, or warmer clothes in bed. If the whole house is too cold, you might want to work on warming up just one room and having a sleepover with the whole family.
2. Heart Disease
We’ve already mentioned that poor sleep due to cold temperatures can contribute to heart disease. But in this case, indoor chill represents a double risk. Living in a cold home may raise blood pressure and heart rate all day long because it causes the blood vessels to constrict.
This is especially risky for people who already have underlying cardiovascular issues, and can weaken the body over the long term in people who are healthy.
If you are in a high risk group, it is vitally important that you find a way to stay as comfortable as possible throughout the day. Maybe that means working in a coffee shop instead of at home, spending more time with friends, or investing in products that can better insulate or heat one or two rooms in the house.
3. Vulnerability to Seasonal Bugs
Winter is cold and flu season no matter what you do, but living in a cold home actually increases your risk of succumbing to a virus. How can this be? A 2007 study that looked at this question found that the answer lies in the way our immune systems produce mucus!
In temperatures above 64 degrees, mucus flows through the sinuses to capture and clear away germs. But when you spend a long time in cold, dry conditions, your body may struggle to produce enough mucus. That means that this important immune response is less able to protect you from airborne viruses, which already thrive in cooler conditions.
4. Respiratory Problems
Sometimes winter cold is a damp cold. When homes aren’t properly insulated or heated, moisture accumulates and leads to mold growth. Breathing in those spores can be detrimental to health, playing a part in conditions like emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, and allergic rhinitis.
Key to controlling the moisture level indoors is a good HVAC system to pull out rather than recirculate the damp. Fans in the bathroom and kitchen are also important to vent humidity in rooms that create their own moisture.
If you do find patches of mold inside, clean those areas thoroughly with a borax solution. Wear face protection to avoid breathing in the mold as you work. Remember, too, that if you don’t locate and fix the source of the moisture, mold will grow again.
Unfortunately, you are not safe even if the chill is dry, as cold air tends to enflame the lungs and impact breathing for everyone in the home.
5. Joint Pain
Joint pain is exacerbated by cold, damp conditions, especially for people who suffer with arthritis. That’s because when the barometric pressure drops, the ligaments and soft tissues around our joints tend to swell. This is an immune response that attempts to protect our joints but instead causes more pain.
Fortunately, this discomfort doesn’t cause irreparable damage to the joints, but it sure does hurt. Medications like ibuprofen can reduce the swelling, while stretching, massage, or a heat pack will help to relieve pain. If you spend a lot of time in cold surroundings, be sure to take the time to walk around for a few minutes each hour to keep your blood flowing and your joints loose.