How to Control When Your Mac Automatically Goes to Sleep Mode

How to Control When Your Mac Automatically Goes to Sleep Mode

It’s often a good idea to let your Mac sleep after a while when you’re not using it, but the way recent versions of macOS present sleep mode options in System Preferences feels counter-intuitive. Here’s how to fix it.

First, a Note on Sleeping Mac Laptops

Mac laptops automatically go to sleep when you close the lid to save battery life. Unfortunately, there is no setting in System Preferences to change it. If you want your MacBook to stay awake when it’s closed, you’ll need to plug in an external display or use a third-party utility.

For Auto Sleep on Timer, Visit Energy Saver

If you’re looking for a way to configure when your Mac goes to sleep after a certain amount of time, you’ll need to visit the “Energy Saver” pane in “System Preferences.” Click the “Apple” logo in the upper left corner of the screen and select “System Preferences”.


In System Preferences, click “Energy Saver.”


When trying to configure your Mac to sleep automatically, confusion often arises because the option isn’t mentioned in Energy Saver preferences. Older versions of macOS include two sliders in this preference pane: one to set when the screen turns off, and another to set when the computer goes to sleep. At some point, Apple combined these sliders into one to encourage people to let their computers go to sleep by default, theoretically helping to save energy.

Unfortunately, in newer versions of macOS (like macOS 10.15 Catalina), the way to put your Mac to sleep after a certain amount of time isn’t immediately visible.


But don’t be afraid; we will solve it. What you do next in Energy Saver preferences depends on whether you want your computer to sleep or not after a certain amount of time. Let’s discuss the options.

Set your Mac to Auto Sleep After a Time-out

If you want your Mac to automatically fall asleep after a certain amount of time, look for the slider labeled “Turn off screen after” in Energy Saver preferences.

Drag the sliders to adjust the sleep time you want. Also, make sure that the “Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when screen turns off” option is not checked.


Then close System Preferences. After the amount of time you choose, the screen will go dark, and your Mac will immediately go to sleep mode – unless something is holding back the process. If so, see the troubleshooting section below.

How to Automatically Turn Off Your Mac Screen without Sleeping

If you want your Mac screen to turn off after a while, but you don’t want your computer to sleep, use the “Turn off screen after” slider.

And here’s the key part: Make sure the “Prevent computer from sleeping automatically when screen turns off” option is enabled by placing a check mark next to it. This is what keeps your computer from sleeping when the screen is off.


After you select the “Prevent Sleep” setting, macOS warns you that your computer “might be using more energy” in a pop-up dialog. Click “OK.”

As a third possibility, if you don’t want your screen to turn off – and you don’t want your Mac to sleep – set the “Turn off screen” slider to “Never”.

What To Do If Your Mac Refuses to Sleep Automatically

If your Mac doesn’t sleep after the time you set in Energy Saver preferences, it’s possible that network activity or active processes (such as apps or system background tasks) keep it active.

One way to check for active processes that might be preventing sleep is to use macOS’s built-in Activity Monitor utility. Open “Activity Monitor” and click the “Energy” tab. Look for the column labeled “Preventing Sleep.”


If there is an item in the list that says “Yes,” your Mac won’t sleep automatically while the process is running. You can wait for the task to complete, exit the process, or Force Quit the process if it doesn’t respond.

There are also ways to dig deeper into what might be preventing your Mac from sleeping using a Terminal app and a command line program called pmset, but this requires more insider knowledge of how Macs work under the hood than the Activity Monitor methods listed above. Good luck!

After Sleep Comes Standby

After a few moments in Sleep mode, your Mac will enter “standby.” It works like hibernation mode on a Windows PC. Your Mac will save the contents of its memory to disk to save additional power, but it will take longer to resume from standby than to wake from sleep mode.

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