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 (read more here: How to use Dark Mode on Apple TV) and the iPhone and iPad have a mode called Night Shift that's designed to remove some of the blue light that can keep us awake. 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?

In macOS Mojave (which arrived on Macs in September 2018) there is a new Dark Mode that can change the interface of your Mac so that all elements are darker and easier on the eye. We'll tell you how to turn on the feature below.

Prior to Mojave there were two options available to you: you could turn on Night Shift and you could use dark menu bar and Dock. Both settings were available via System Preferences. For those who have yet to update to Mojave, we'll explain where to find the settings below.

What is Dark Mode?

Dark Mode is a feature in macOS Mojave that allows Mac users to switch to a completely different, darker, interface that adjusts everything, system-wide.

With Dark Mode on, the Calendar app will divert to a black background and type will be a similar tone to the colour of the box, Message bubbles will turn grey with white text, and the Finder background will be black, as shown in the image at the top of this article.

The Finder also gains a new dark interface as shown below.

Dark Mode Finder

How to turn on Dark Mode in MacOS Mojave

Mojave users can choose to turn on Dark Mode during the setup process when they first install Mojave. If you chose not to, to turn on Dark Mode follow these steps:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click on General.
  3. Click on Dark.

How to turn on Dark Mode Mojave

How to get dark wallpaper in Mojave

Apple offers 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.

However, if you prefer to use Dark Mode you might also prefer for the desktop image to always show a dark sand dune.

To choose the dark Mojave desktop, rather than the Dynamic Mojave desktop, follow these steps:

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. If you already have the Mojave wallpaper selected this will show Dynamic in a drop-down menu. Click on this and change it to Dark (Still).

Dark Mode Mojave

You can also choose the Dark version of the image from the options below.

How to get Dark Mode in Safari

While normal webpages in Safari aren't going to appear darker in Dark Mode - after all the web designer has dictated how they will appear, and if the page's background is white then it will remain white. However, there is a way you can view web pages in Safari in a Dark Mode.

Turn on Reader mode by clicking on the stack of lines beside the URL.

Reader Mode

Note, you won't see this option on every web page.

Once in Reader mode you will view a dark web page without ads and other distractions.

(It's also possible to get a dark mode in Chrome if you use that browser, more details here.)

How to get Dark Mode in Pages

You might have thought that if you turned on Dark Mode your Pages documents would have a dark background and perhaps white type, instead of black type on a white page.

Unfortunately this isn't the case because Pages is designed to show you on the page what you would see if you printed or PDFed the page. This makes sense, but if you are never going to print the page, you might prefer a more easy on the eye appearance.

This might be possible if you were to create a template with a dark background image that you can use when you want a dark appearance in Pages. However, we think it might just be easier to use Notes, which will assume a dark background in Dark Mode.

Other ways to darken your Mac

Here are some other changes you can make to darken your Mac.

Invert Colours

You could also create your own Dark Mode by turning on Inverted Colours.

You can do this in System Preferences:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click on Accessibility.
  3. Click on Display.
  4. Choose Invert Colours - this will turn the white backgrounds to your windows black, and the black type white. (You won't be able to screenshot this though, so you'll have to take our word for it!)
  5. Similarly, you could choose Use grayscale and you'd turn your interface black and white.

Go Graphite

There are a few other tweaks 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 change your highlight colour to something darker, like Graphite.

How to turn on Night Shift on a Mac (pre Mojave)

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.

  1. To turn on Night Shift open System Preferences > Displays and click on the Night Shift tab.
  2. Click on the box beside Schedule and choose Sunrise to Sunset, or custom, if you'd like to choose your own timings. Dark Mode High Sierra
  3. You can also adjust the Colour Temperature here to manually override the settings if you want to, or choose Turn On Until Sunrise.

How to turn on dark menu bar and Dock (pre-Mojave)

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.

  1. To turn this feature on, go to System Preferences > General and put a tick next to 'Use dark menu bar and Dock'.
  2. Remove the tick from Use Dark Menu Bar and Dock to return to standard mode.

Dark Mode High Sierra

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).

How to enable Dark Mode: Dark Mode in macOS

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.  Support for 'dark menu bar' mode (pre Mojave) 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.