Your cold nose could be a sign that you’re working too hard

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Sonya Barber
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Forget the extra jumper, you might just need a day off.

Do you ever realise that your nose is weirdly chillier than the rest of your body? Well, don’t adjust the heating just yet. According to a new study, nose temperature could be an indicator of how much strain your brain is under.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham Institute for Aerospace Technology looked at the neurological functions of 14 volunteers and discovered that the more mentally overwhelmed they were, the colder their noses became.

Using thermal imaging cameras, they found that facial temperatures, especially in the sinuses around the nose, were “reduced as participants carried out tasks of increasing difficulty”.

When people were fully focused on a task, their breathing rate changed and blood flow was redirected from the face to the brain to help it work harder.

Dr Alastair Campbell Ritchie, from the Bioengineering Research Group, was surprised at the results: “We expected that mental demands on an operator would result in physiological changes but the direct correlation between the workload and the skin temperature was very impressive.”

“We were not expecting to see the face getting colder” he said. “With this accurate way to estimate workload we can develop methods that will assist the operator at times of maximum stress.”

The study was aiming to find a way to monitor an employee’s brain stress levels in a non-intrusive way, and they reckon that the thermal imaging technique they were trialing could be just the ticket.

Professor Sarah Sharples, supervisor and initiator of the study, said: “The measurement of workload without needing to interrupt people to ask them to report how busy they are, has been challenging human factors specialists for many years.” 

She explained, “we have developed a much better understanding of how physical changes associated with workloads manifest themselves as physiological symptoms”.

The study will be beneficial to help monitor employees such as pilots, whose long hours and arduous workloads could be a serious safety issue to themselves and, of course, their passengers.

Professor Herve Morvan, Director of the IAT said: “Pilot fatigue has received greater exposure recently and developing an advanced system to monitor it is a significant step in a sector where safety is paramount.”

So next time you feel like you’re working too hard, check how chilly your nose is. Even if your job isn’t a matter of life and death, it could just be a good sign that it’s time to take a break.

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