Using an iPhone late at night can cause eye strain and loss of sleep: the blue light from the screen disrupts our circadian rhythms and tells our brains it's still daytime. For this reason software designers have put forward a number of alternative interface options that darken the screen or reduce the emission of blue light.
In this article we explain how to set up and use the brilliant new Dark Mode feature on the iPhone if you've got iOS 13. But for those who are still on iOS 12 and earlier, we offer a range of workarounds that will also improve nighttime viewing, such as Invert Colours and Night Shift.
To use Dark Mode you'll need to be running iOS 13 (or later, when it comes to that) on your iPhone. The software is now available to all, having launched on 19 September 2019; it's easy to install iOS 13 for free.
Dark Mode is a system-wide interface control, and darkens the background of all preinstalled apps to black or dark grey, which is more relaxing to use in the evenings and can save battery life when using an OLED screen. Third-party developers can set up their apps to be affected by Dark Mode too, but they are not obliged to. (Nearly all will, though. Here's how to get WhatsApp's Dark Mode, for example.)
This is what Dark Mode looks like in (from left to right) Apple's own Music app, and the Twitter and Slack third-party apps for iPhone, which are the only ones we've spotted so far to implement the new feature.
To turn on Dark Mode (assuming you've got iOS 13), open the Settings app and go to Display & Brightness. At the top of the next screen you'll see the two interface 'flavours' side by side: Light and Dark.
You can set Dark Mode now manually by tapping it - the effect will display immediately - but it's probably more convenient to set up a regular schedule.
Hit Automatic below the Light and Dark options so the toggle turns green. Now tap the Options entry, which will let you choose a schedule based on sunrise and sunset, or one based on specific times of day (Custom Schedule).
We think the best approach is to use an automated schedule. But the easiest way to manually toggle Dark Mode on and off is to use Control Centre.
Dark Mode doesn't appear in Control Centre by default, so you'll need to add it first. Go to Settings > Control Centre (if you're a US reader this will display as Control Center) and tap Customise Controls. Find Dark Mode in the bottom list and tap the green plus sign next to it, so it moves up to the top list.
Now any time you're on the home screen (and indeed any time you're in an app, if you tapped the Access Within Apps toggle in Settings > Control Centre) you'll be able to bring up Control Centre and tap the Dark Mode icon to switch it on or off.
(If you're not familiar, Control Centre is accessed by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen on a notched iPhone, or from the bottom of the screen on an iPhone with a Home button.)
If you've got iOS 13 the best option is clearly Dark Mode. But what if you've not upgraded yet?
The nearest thing to an official Dark Mode on iOS 12 and earlier is a feature called Invert Colours. This turns white interface elements black and vice versa, which is roughly what Dark Mode does.
Open the Settings app and tap General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Invert Colours. You should now tap Smart Invert so its slider turns green.
Smart Invert doesn't simply invert all colours: it's smart enough to recognise images and media and leave them alone. (In Settings and other apps that Apple controls. You'll find that in many third-party apps it cannot do this, and inverts them anyway.)
Classic Invert, listed below Smart Invert, is the old interface option that inverts everything.
Apple brought in Night Shift, which reduced the level of blue light being emitted by the iPad and iPhone, as part of the iOS 9.3 point update. The colour-shifting technology reduces the emission of blue light, which is said to keep us awake and cause eye strain and headaches, and makes onscreen colours appear warmer and more yellowy.
We find it convenient to have Night Shift set on a recurring schedule rather than turning it on manually each time it gets dark.
You can do this via Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. From here you'll be able to set up a schedule, including the option to have the iOS device automatically determine your location and enable Night Shift at sunset, then turn it off again at sunrise.
We look at this feature in a lot more detail in a separate article: How to use Night Shift on iPhone.
Here's another option that may improve your viewing experience at night. Open the Settings app and go to General > Accessibility > Zoom and tap the slider next to Zoom so it turns green.
Now go back to the Home screen and do a triple-tap with three fingers to bring up the zoom menu. Tap Choose Filter. In the next screen (pictured below), tap Low Light. This will darken the screen and make it more suitable for low-light viewing.
Back in iOS 10, Apple rolled out a range of Colour Filters in Accessibility. These include Greyscale, which somewhat imitates Dark Mode (although it's a bit extreme to lose all colour in iOS).
- Open Settings.
- Choose General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Colour Filters.
- Set Colour Filters to On.
We think Greyscale is the most relevant choice for nighttime viewing, but the other filters may help too. The other filters give you an Intensity slider (Colour Tint gives you a Hue slider too) so you can experiment to see what is best for you. Often you'll find that you notice the effect more on the Home Screen than in Settings.
Set Colour Filters to Off to return to normal viewing mode.