Late-night screen use and insomnia go together like blue light and disrupted circadian rhythms. (This type of light is particularly bad for convincing our brains it's still daytime.) It can also cause eyestrain, tiredness and stress. For these reasons many software companies have worked on ways to adjust computer, tablet and smartphone interfaces for evening or nighttime use.
Some devices have a special 'Dark Mode' which is designed to kick in during the evening hours. For example, Apple created a Dark Mode for its Apple TV, which changes much of the interface furniture from white (or light) to black (or dark); this is more restful to use in the evening. Read more here: How to use Dark Mode on Apple TV.
Similarly the iPhone and iPad have a mode called Night Shift (since iOS 9.3), that is designed to remove some of the blue light that can keep us awake. It's also possible to invoke a Invert Colours feature that has the effect of turning white interface elements black and vice versa. For related advice, take a look at How to use Dark Mode on your iPhone.
While turning the brightness down on your Mac's screen (usually by pressing the F1 key) might be sufficient to stop you from straining your eyes too much, there are certain elements of the interface - for example, the fact that most apps have white backgrounds - that are likely to have you reaching for the sunglasses.
So, what options do you have to make your Mac screen easier on the eye?
Currently there are two options available to you: you can turn on Night Shift and you can use dark menu bar and Dock. Both are settings available via System Preferences. We'll explain where to find them below.
But before we move on to how to darken the screen of your Mac, there's some exciting news:
macOS Mojave - the next version of the Mac operating system that's due to launch this autumn - will include a Dark Mode that will actually change the interface of your Mac so that all elements are darker and easier on the eye. We'll tell you what we know so far below.
Apple introduced Night Shift to the Mac in macOS Sierra. Night Shift adjusts the colour of your display after sunset, toning down that bright-blue light in favour of warmer light that's easier on the eyes.
- To turn on Night Shift open System Preferences > Displays and click on the Night Shift tab.
- Click on the box beside Schedule and choose Sunrise to Sunset, or custom, if you'd like to choose your own timings.
- You can also adjust the Colour Temperature here to manually override the settings if you want to, or choose Turn On Until Sunrise.
The closest Apple had come to introducing a Dark Mode on the Mac was when it added the ability to use dark menu bars and Dock in macOS El Capitan. This was a step towards making things a little less bright, although it wasn't the Dark Mode everyone had been hoping for.
- To turn this feature on, go to System Preferences > General and put a tick next to 'Use dark menu bar and Dock'.
- Remove the tick from Use Dark Menu Bar and Dock to return to standard mode.
As you can see, once 'dark menu bar' mode is switched on, the interface is subtly, but not drastically, different. As the option name suggests, it changes the look of only the menu bar (at the top of the macOS interface) and the Dock (at the bottom).
Here are some things to look out for in this mode:
- The Dock: the pale translucent background becomes much darker. It remains translucent, however, and if you move windows behind the dock the lightness shows through.
- The Menu bar. The drop-down menus across macOS are dark and again, the lightness of any windows underneath shines through.
- App support. Currently full support for 'dark menu bar' mode is limited to Apple's own apps. Apps made by a third party display a dark menu, but it does not have the see-through effect.
- Dark Mode does not affect other translucent parts of the macOS interface. Safari, for example, features a translucent sidebar.
Other interface changes you can make on the Mac
There are a few other tweeks you can make to tone down your Mac.
Open System Preferences > General and click on the drop down box beside Appearance.
Here you have the option to change from Blue to Graphite. It will change the colour of buttons, menus and windows - you'll probably notice it most with the 'traffic light' buttons for minimising or closing a window.
You could also choose to chnage your highlight colour to something darker, like Graphite.
However, this won't do anything about the white backgrounds to your apps. To fix that you need to wait for macOS Mojave.
Dark Mode in MacOS Mojave
Dark Mode is perhaps the most popular new feature coming in Mojave.
Finally, Apple will make it possible to do more than adjust the colour of the menu bar and Dock. The new Dark Mode will allow Mac users to switch to a completely different, darker, interface that adjusts everything, system-wide.
Apple showed off a few of its apps as seen in the new Dark Mode. Calendar, for example (shown below) will divert to a black background and type will be a similar tone to the colour of the box.
During the keynote Apple showed off how the new interface will look for Mail, iTunes, and Xcode.
The new Dark Mode will be turned on via System Preferences > General.
Dynanic Desktop on Mojave
Apple will also be offering a feature called Dynamic Desktop in Mojave. With this setting the backdrop to your screen will change throughout the day, so as the sun goes down, your wallpaper will get darker.
How to get Mojave Dark Mode now!
Mojave should be available this autumn, in September, or at the latest October.
If you want to get your hands on Dark Mode earlier, you could join the Public Beta program and download the Mojave beta this summer.
You could also create your own Dark Mode by turning on Inverted Colours.
You can do this in System Preferences, here's how to get Dark Mode on the Mac:
- Open System Preferences.
- Click on Accessibility.
- Click on Display.
- Choose Invert Colours - this will turn the white backgrounds to your windows black, and the black type white. (You won't be able to screen shot this though, so you'll have to take our word for it!)
- Similarly you could choose Use grayscale and you'd turn your interface black and white.