Sleepy office syndrome? It's not you, it's excess CO2

If you've ever worked in a post-modern office building you likely know the scenario: it's a long meeting, and the combination of fluorescent lighting and too little fresh air has the brains around the conference table a little fuzzy. Eyelids flutter, chins nod, and only the most energetic continue throwing out ideas or making progress through a lengthy agenda.

It's the curse of modern working - the closed, artificially heated and cooled spaces. We did this on purpose, made these skyscrapers with windows that don't open and thermostats that can't be easily adjusted, to save energy.

But, did we forget about saving ourselves?

At the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems in Duisburg, Germany, researchers have been working on a way to improve indoor air pollution. Levels of carbon dioxide tend to build up in rooms over time while oxygen levels decline, leading to stale, stuffy, air, and slow-working brains. A study last year by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found CO2 levels are worst in meeting rooms, and also in classrooms.

Normally, outdoors the CO2 levels are around 350 ppm - in office meeting rooms levels can rise to thousands of parts per million, usually due to poor ventilation.

While insulation, air-tight windows and heat-saving construction have all gotten better as a result of green building practices, indoor air has suffered.

So Fraunhofer, working with the Athmer company, designed a door seal that measures concentrations of CO2. A sensor records CO2 levels, and when a threshold is reached, the seal is opened and the ventilation system kicks in, delivering new oxygen to tired brains.

The system, Fraunhofer says, calculates the

"best compromise between good indoor air and optimal utilization of energy efficiency."

There are also a host of hand-held CO2 sensors now on the market, some of which will even beep to let you know when levels climb to drowse-inducing. Or, we can all get a CO2-sucking micro-algae lamp on our desk!

Tags: Air Conditioning | Buildings | Carbon Dioxide