Tired at Work? Carbon Dioxide May Be to Blame

Written by Lillie Reiter   Waking up is hard and we all know the daily struggle of getting out of bed to drag ourselves into work (unless you are one of the chosen “morning people”). Once we get to work, rallying ourselves into productivity and staying awake is usually pretty easy until 2 or 3 o’clock strikes and the afternoon lull hits. Studies suggests it might not be routine tiredness that is causing your afternoon lull. The real culprit might be carbon dioxide (CO2).  Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, asphyxiant gas. In the outside atmosphere, CO2 concentrations are normally between 300 and 700 parts per million(ppm). Buildings nowadays are built to be so tight for energy efficiency that when masses of people are inside, CO2 has a hard time escaping and generally, inside an office CO2 levels ranges between 1000-2500 + ppm. The main causes of CO2 in the workplace are human beings and lack of fresh air. Increased concentrations of CO2 can cause sleepiness as well as headache, convulsions, dyspnea, sweating, dizziness, or narcosis.  Not only could it be making you tired but a study done in 2012 with researchers from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University provides evidence for suggesting increased levels of CO2 also influences decision making. Out of nine scales of decision making performance, participants in the study showed significant reductions in six after being exposed to increased levels of CO2. The most pronounced categories taking a hit were ‘taking initiative’ and ‘thinking strategically.’ The researchers looked at levels of CO2 600, 1000, and 2500 ppm. Shown in the chart, as CO2 levels increased, the rating of functionality for each category decreased.  So with this information, an important question is: how is CO2 removed from the office? In many offices, employees don’t have the ability or access to open the windows. Here are some ways to ventilate without having to open the windows.

  • Have plants near the desk. Plants are a known source for CO2 removal. Be cautious with this suggestion because some soil fungi are allergenic and may cause more problems.
  • Place a small fan at the desk. Moving air away from the desk will increase ventilation without having to open the window.
  • Take a short walk. Getting up and stretching your legs outside gives your lungs reprieve from stuffy office air. A short 3-5 minute walk at lunch will perk you up and let you exercise your legs.

Although cat naps have been known to increase productivity, this study and others suggest opening a window might be the best way to ward off nap time and increase your capacity at work.  If you can’t open a window, there are other creative ways to reduce the amount of CO2 that affects your work.  Sources: News Center OSHA

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