Clock Watching: Why Do We Have Daylight Savings Time?

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As most Americans are a bit more bleary-eyed than normal today, the overriding question is: Why do we participate in daylight savings time?

At 2 a.m. this morning, most American states sprang forward an hour. Time falls back to standard time on November 6. States are not required to observe daylight savings time, which is why Arizona and Hawaii, as well as a few territories aren't changing their clocks this weekend.

Daylight savings time actually began when Germany, in an effort to save coal for its World War I effort, reduced artificial lighting. The United States followed suit in 1918. But since the end of World War II, daylight savings time has been optional for U.S. states.

Several studies debate whether daylight savings time truly saves anything or simply sucks time away. However, the New England Journal of Medicine reported in 2008 that some heart risks go up in the days just after the spring-time change.

Possibly the most interesting case-study would be in Indiana, where prior to 2006 only 15 of the state's 92 counties observed daylight savings time. While use of artificial lights dropped, air conditioning spiked for an extra hour through the summer, offsetting any energy gains. Simply put, the extra hour of daylight is at the end of the day when more air conditioning is required. Clearly, savings and/or losses vary in different regions of the country.

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