About Energy Saver sleep and idle modes in Mac OS X

Learn about the Energy Saver preference pane's sleep and idle mode options.


  • Throughout this article, "portable Mac" refers to a Mac with a built-in display and keyboard, such as a MacBook or MacBook Pro.
  • The Energy Saver preferences elements described below are based on OS X Lion. Earlier OS X versions are similar.


About Energy Saver

The settings in Energy Saver preferences affect what happens when your Mac is left unattended for a period of time that you specify.

Energy Saver preferences in OS X Lion on a portable Mac

You can indicate if displays should sleep or if hard disk(s) should spin down when the computer is idle.

If you set the "Display sleep" slider lower than the "Computer sleep" slider, the display will sleep (if possible) once the computer has been idle long enough. If the computer remains idle longer (how long depends on what you've set the "Computer sleep" slider to), it will go into full sleep mode after display sleep (unless you've set the "Computer sleep" slider to Never).

You cannot set the "Computer sleep" slider lower than the "Display sleep" slider because computer sleep includes display sleep, as detailed below in the "What happens when the Mac goes to sleep..." section.

Note: On some earlier portable Macs, the above window displays a Graphics choice of "Better battery life" or "Higher performance". See this article for more information.

Putting your Mac to sleep immediately

Your Mac will immediately sleep when you do any of the following, regardless of your Energy Saver preference settings:

  • Choose Sleep from the Apple () menu
  • Click Sleep after pressing the power key
  • Close the lid of a portable Mac

What happens when the Mac goes to sleep (not just into idle mode or display sleep)?

On all Macs:

  • The microprocessor goes into a low-power mode
  • Video output is turned off, and a connected display may turn off or enter its own idle state
  • Apple-supplied hard disks spin down; third-party hard disks may spin down

On portable Macs:

  • The Ethernet port turns off, if applicable (see note below)
  • Expansion card slots turn off
  • The built-in modem, if present, turns off (see note below)
  • An AirPort card, if present, turns off (see note below)
  • The USB ports only responds to the power key on an external keyboard (see below)
  • The optical media drive, if present, spins down
  • Audio input and output turns off
  • Keyboard illumination, if a feature of your portable computer, turns off

A computer uses considerably less power when in sleep mode than when awake. The computer will continue to power RAM in sleep mode, so that whatever was in RAM when the computer went to sleep will still be there when the computer wakes. This also means that computers with more RAM use slightly more power in sleep mode.

Note: Portable computers have no network connectivity when in sleep mode, but can wake if the Energy Saver option "Wake for network access" is enabled. If you wish to use file sharing or don't want to interrupt your Internet connection, you should not manually put the computer to sleep, and you should drag the "Computer sleep" slider to Never.

Tip: To wake a portable Mac from sleep mode with an external keyboard, you must press the power key on the external keyboard (if it has one) or any key on the built-in keyboard. Other keys on the external keyboard will not wake the portable computer from sleep in this power-saving state. If the computer is not completely asleep, but has simply spun down the hard drive and dimmed the display on idle, pressing any key on either keyboard will "wake" the computer.

What might prevent a computer from going to sleep or into an idle state?

See this article.

How does Energy Saver work in Safe Mode, or while started from an install disc?

If the computer is started in Safe Mode or from a startup disc, default Energy Saver settings are in effect, which may differ from settings you've set in Energy Saver preferences. Energy Saver is not "disabled" when started in Safe Mode or from a startup disc.

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