Mac Sleep Modes Explained Hibernate vs Safe Sleep vs Standby Featured Image

Mac Sleep Modes Explained: Sleep, Hibernate, Safe Sleep, and Standby

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Last updated: October 12, 2023

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Sleep mode retains the system’s state in RAM for rapid wake-ups, Hibernate saves the state to the hard drive and powers down the RAM, Safe Sleep backs up RAM content to the startup drive for added data security, and Standby conserves battery life by saving the session to the SSD after a period of basic sleep.

Key Points

  • Sleep mode is the default power-saving state for Macs, ensuring quick access after short breaks.
  • Hibernate mode conserves maximum battery during extended inactivity but has a slower wake-up time.
  • Safe Sleep balances quick wake-ups and data security, which is especially useful if there’s a risk of battery drain.
  • Standby mode can sustain a fully charged MacBook for up to 30 days without a power source, making it ideal for longer periods of inactivity.

Ever close your MacBook and wonder what it’s doing? It’s not just napping—it’s working smart to save power, that too in four different sleep modes: Sleep, Hibernate, Safe Sleep, and Standby.

Curious about the differences between the different Mac sleep modes? From the deep slumber of Hibernate to the light doze of Standby, I’ll explain each mode in this guide. So, let’s dive in.

What Are Mac Sleep Modes?

What Are Mac Sleep Modes

Mac sleep modes are power-saving states, allowing your Mac to conserve energy when inactive. These modes determine how your Mac behaves when you’re not using it, ensuring it uses minimal power while still being ready for action when you return.

These modes help extend the battery life of Mac laptops and reduce energy consumption for all Mac computers. They ensure your Mac is always ready to pick up where you left off without wasting unnecessary power.

Here’s a brief overview of the primary Mac sleep modes:

1. Sleep Mode: A Deep Dive

Sleep mode is Mac’s default power-saving state. When your Mac is in Sleep mode, the system’s state is saved in RAM. The hard drive and most peripherals are powered down, but RAM remains powered to retain its contents.

Waking up from Sleep mode is quick since the system’s state is instantly available.

Typically, a Mac will enter Sleep mode on its own after a set duration of not being used, ranging from one minute to three hours. You can customize this duration or even prevent your Mac from entering sleep mode via the System Settings.

Desktop Macs use this power-conserving setting by default, known as hibernatemode 0.

2. Hibernate Mode: The Long Sleep

Hibernate mode is designed primarily for MacBooks. In Hibernate mode, the system’s state is saved to the hard drive, and the computer fully powers down, including the RAM. The key distinction between the two modes is that in Hibernation, the RAM is powered off after its data is backed up.

When you wake the computer, it reads the saved state from the hard drive and restores it. This mode uses the least power but takes longer to wake up than Sleep mode.

This specific mode is termed hibernatemode 1 and was the default for Mac laptops manufactured before 2005.

3. Safe Sleep Mode: The Safe Zone

Compared to the basic sleep mode, this mode offers added security by backing up the RAM’s content to the startup drive before the Mac sleeps, similar to hibernation. This feature ensures data recovery in situations like battery malfunctions, hardware issues, or other mishaps.

Yet, the RAM stays active in this mode during sleep, unlike in hibernation. That’s why waking your Mac in this mode is as swift as in the regular sleep mode.

Often referred to as hibernatemode 3, this mode became the default for Mac laptops introduced post-2005.

Not every MacBook is compatible with this mode.

4. Standby Mode: The Middle Ground

This mode is primarily tailored to conserve battery life, although it’s available on desktops, too. When on standby, the ongoing session is saved to the SSD.

Standby kicks in after a Mac has been in basic sleep for a while. For Macs introduced in 2013 or later, this transition happens after roughly three hours of sleep. In contrast, older Macs shift to standby after about an hour.

A standout feature of this mode is its longevity: a fully charged MacBook can sustain itself on standby for an impressive 30 days without a power source.

Which Sleep Mode Is the Best for You?

Choosing the best sleep mode for your Mac depends on your usage patterns, priorities, and the specific circumstances in which you use your device.

Here’s a breakdown of all Mac sleep modes to help you decide:

ModeBest ForProsCons
Sleep Mode (hibernatemode 0)Users who want extended battery life during inactivity without compromising wake-up speed.Fastest wake-up time.Consumes more battery over extended periods than other modes.
Hibernate Mode (hibernatemode 1)Older Mac laptops or those wanting to conserve as much battery as possible during longer periods of inactivity.Uses the least battery power when the Mac is inactive.Slower wake-up time since it needs to read the saved state from the hard drive.
Safe Sleep (hibernatemode 3)Users who want a balance between quick wake-up times and data security, especially if there’s a risk of battery drain or unexpected shutdowns.Combines the benefits of both Sleep and Hibernate. Data is safe even if the battery completely drains.Takes up additional storage space on the startup drive for the saved state.
Standby ModeUsers who want extended battery life during periods of inactivity without compromising on wake-up speed.Can last up to 30 days on a full battery charge without being plugged in.Only available on newer Macs.
  • 🔋 Battery Life: If conserving battery life is a priority, especially for longer durations, Hibernate or Standby mode might be more suitable.
  • ⚡ Wake-up Speed: The regular Sleep mode is ideal if you need to access your Mac frequently and desire instant responsiveness.
  • 🔒 Data Security: For those concerned about potential data loss due to battery drain or unexpected issues, Safe Sleep offers a good balance.

Find Out Which Sleep Mode Your Mac Uses

Based on your macOS version and MacBook type, a specific sleep mode from the abovementioned ones is pre-selected for your device. To find out which sleep mode is set as the default on your Mac using Terminal, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Terminal on your Mac by searching for it in Spotlight search (Command ⌘ + Space).
type terminal in spotlight search
  1. Type the following command and press Enter:
pmset -g | grep hibernatemode
type pmset g grep hibernatemode in terminal
  1. You’ll see a number representing the default Sleep Mode of your Mac.
sleep mode code in terminal

Here’s what different numbers mean in terms of Mac sleep modes:

  • hibernatemode 0: Standard Sleep
  • hibernatemode 1: Hibernate Mode for pre-2005 portable MacBooks
  • hibernatemode 3: Safe Sleep
  • hibernatemode 25: For post-2005 MacBooks

What Happens to a Mac While It’s Sleeping?

When a Mac is put to sleep, it enters a low-power state to conserve energy while preserving the current session for a quick resume. Here’s a breakdown of what happens during this process:

  1. ⏸️ Active Processes Pause: All running applications and processes are paused. They remain in their current state, ensuring that when you wake your Mac, you can pick up right where you left off.
  2. 🔋 RAM Remains Powered: In standard sleep mode, the content of the RAM (Random Access Memory) remains powered. This is where all the current session data, including open applications and documents, is stored, allowing for a rapid wake-up.
  3. 🔌 Peripherals Go Inactive: External devices, such as hard drives, printers, or displays, are powered down or go into their sleep modes.
  4. 📡 Network Connections: Active network connections, like Wi-Fi, are generally suspended. This means your Mac won’t download updates or receive messages until awakened.
  5. 💡 Power Consumption Drops: The Mac significantly reduces its power usage. For laptops, this means the battery will drain much more slowly than when the Mac is active.
  6. 🔍 System Checks: Even in sleep mode, the Mac occasionally checks for specific events, like network activity or peripheral connections, which might wake it up.
  7. 🌙 Potential Transition to Deeper Sleep Modes: Depending on your settings and sleep duration, a Mac might transition from standard sleep to deeper sleep modes like hibernate or standby to conserve even more energy.
  8. 💤 LED Indicator: A sleep LED pulses on some older Mac models to indicate the Mac is sleeping.
  9. 🌀 Fans and Hard Drive: The fans stop running, and if your Mac has a traditional hard drive (as opposed to an SSD), it will also stop spinning.

How to Change Your Mac’s Sleep Mode

You can conveniently adjust the sleep settings on your Mac through the System Settings. This method is straightforward and perfect for those who prefer not to delve into the technical details.

Follow these steps to change your Mac’s sleep settings:

  1. Click the Apple logo and select System Settings.
click the apple icon and select system settings
  1. Click the Lock Screen tab in the left sidebar.
select lock screen from left menu bar
  1. On the right side, under Lock Screen, you’ll see four options:
    • Start Screen Saver when inactive
    • Turn display off on battery when inactive
    • Turn display off on power adapter when inactive
    • Require password after screen saver begins or display is turned off
lock screen options

Each option has a dropdown button next to it. You can click it to:

  • Pick a time: 1 minute to 3 hours.
  • Change password settings: choose between 5 seconds to 8 hours.
  • Select Never if you don’t want a timer.

Pick the Right Sleep Mode for Your Mac

Understanding and effectively using the right sleep mode can significantly enhance your Mac’s performance and lifespan. It’s worth the effort to familiarize yourself with these modes and optimize them based on your usage patterns.

Here are some more tips for you:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is Hibernate mode better than Sleep mode?

    Hibernate mode saves energy by powering down RAM and storing session data on the disk, while sleep mode keeps RAM active for quicker wake-ups. Hibernate is better for extended inactivity, conserving battery. Sleep is ideal for short breaks, offering faster access.

  2. What is the difference between Sleep and Safe Sleep on a Mac?

    Sleep mode on a Mac preserves the current session in RAM for quick wake-ups. Safe Sleep, however, saves the session to both RAM and the disk, ensuring data protection during battery drain. While both offer rapid access, Safe Sleep adds an extra layer of data security during extended inactivity.

  3. How do I know if my Mac is in Standby or Sleep mode?

    On a Mac, distinguishing between Standby and Sleep can be subtle. Generally, if your Mac wakes up instantly, it’s in Sleep. If it takes slightly longer and shows a progress bar, it’s resuming from Standby. Checking energy-saving settings or using terminal commands can also provide insights into the active mode.

  4. Can I set my Mac to switch between Sleep modes automatically?

    While Macs have default sleep settings based on model and macOS version, you can customize them using System Settings or specific Terminal commands. Advanced users can automate transitions between modes, but it requires a deeper understanding of macOS functionalities and potential third-party tools or scripts.

Hashir Ibrahim


I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.



Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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