Winter has been going on for what seems like forever. With yet another cold front about to hit, we take a look at some of the usual and not-so-usual things our bodies get up to when the thermostat goes down.
Known in medical circles as piloerection or pilomotor reflex, goosebumps occur in a number of instances, such as sexual arousal, fear, pleasure, awe, euphoria, nostalgia and admiration. It also happens when we get cold. When it gets cold the sympathetic nervous system reacts by contracting certain muscles, causing hair follicles to protrude from the skin, the muscle tension created by this warms the body and often happens in conjunction with shivering.
It's believed that, similar to goosebumps, nipples (both male and female) react to instances such as sexual arousal, fear and also cold, and similarly warms the body from the muscle tension.
Shrinking scrotum and retracting testicles
Sperm are quite sensitive little critters and should be kept at 35 or 36 degrees Celsius, which explains why the scrotum (which contains the testicles) is outside the body (normal body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius). However, when things get colder the cremaster muscles around the testes pull them towards the body, thereby regulating temperature.
Men (and women) feel friskier
Studies have shown that our sexual activity is seasonal, peaking at the height of summer and (especially for men) winter. While the reason for this is unclear, experts argue that summer is associated with holidays and that during winter couples tend to stay in rather than go out in the cold. Others blame it on hormonal changes that occur in both men and women, during summer and winter.
Women feel colder
When you're out on the town and your lady asks for your jacket to keep her warm, she's not simply playing a damsel in distress, her body may actually feel colder than yours. It's been shown in studies that while there's no actual difference in body temperature between men and women, it's all down to body composition. Men have more muscle than women and the theory is that because muscle is better at generating heat than fat (which is better at retaining heat), women may feel cold more.
Paradoxical undressing and terminal burrowing
Our bodies are pretty amazing things and can adapt well to varying, even extreme, conditions. On the more morbid side of things, researchers have observed the odd phenomena known as paradoxical undressing and terminal burrowing, whereby people who are in the final stages of lethal hypothermia would remove all their clothes as if they were really hot, then try to crawl into a small space as if they were burrowing.
The researchers believe that the shedding of clothes is due to one of two things; a vasodilatation that give a feeling of warmth, brought on by cold-induced paralysis of the nerves in the walls of the vessels. The other theory is that the reflex vascoconstriction may lead to paralysis of the vasomotor centre, which gives the sensation of body temperature that is higher than it actually is.
The burrowing behaviour occurs just before death and seems to be a final mechanism of protection and is similar to the way certain animals enter hibernation.