There’s nothing worse than waking in the morning to discover your Mac notebook hasn’t slept a wink all night, and its battery needs recharging before you can get on with the day. If that notebook happens to be an Apple silicon model, famed for its battery endurance, it’s even worse. This article looks at how best to tackle that.
Apple provides a limited set of tools to understand what’s going wrong and take charge of your Mac’s insomnia. The Battery pane should show its steady discharge through the night, but little else. Basic controls over behaviour are in the Energy Saver pane, and you may find clues as to which processes are keeping a Mac awake in the Energy tab of Activity Monitor, using the Preventing Sleep column.
Beyond those there’s only Terminal and
pmset, a very complex command indeed. Although the expert may be able to navigate its settings safely, it’s also easy to make your Mac’s problem worse. Then there’s the ultimate source of information, the Unified log, where you could waste weeks looking for needles in its haystack.
pmset also has an option to provide further information, with its
-g log command, but gathering and analysing that information is no more accessible.
Over the last few days, I’ve been looking at Ohanaware’s new app Sleep Aid, which sets out to help you solve these problems. I’m impressed: not only is it far superior to anything you could achieve in macOS, but much of what it does is unique, as far as I’m aware. If you have a Mac notebook, it’s an essential, even if, like me, you normally shut it down overnight rather than hoping it will spend those hours asleep.
Sleep Aid runs as an app. While you want it to monitor and control your Mac’s sleep status and problems, simply leave the app running, as it only takes 100 MB or so of memory and next to no CPU. There are no Login Items, Agents, Daemons or System Extensions to install. That clean design is really important to ensure that Sleep Aid itself doesn’t alter the system whose behaviour it’s watching, and there’s nothing to uninstall when you don’t need it.
The app’s main window alone is the most powerful tool that I’ve seen for investigating sleep problems. It charts, hour by hour, day by day, up to a fortnight of Sleep History and, in my case, the causes of sleep failure or waking up. No longer do you have to guess when your notebook woke up last night. Select any of those periods for a detailed account as to what occurred and why, in the right of the window.
That lists potential software causes, down to individual processes which you didn’t even know were running, let alone keeping your Mac awake. It also lists connections to external devices which could be involved, and relevant system settings.
Click on the Suggestions button, and Sleep Aid’s Help opens at a page explaining causes and solutions. This will help you tackle each bout of insomnia systematically.
The Sleep Check tool shows you current settings which will prevent sleep, and can fix them instantly. Tick the box at its foot to List background apps and those will be listed dynamically, so you can see what’s getting in the way.
Its Sleep Settings gathers together all the controls you have as a user into one place, so you can correct those as you wish. Items which are going to keep your Mac awake are conveniently flagged with a yellow warning triangle. Most importantly, these let you disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi during sleep, two of the commonest causes which can be a nightmare to address. Another important feature here is the Settings… button for Notifications, which opens the relevant pane, even in Ventura beta 2.
Need for better control
My MacBook Pro M1 Pro was something of a lost cause, as it’s running Ventura at present; because that’s an early beta, it has background processes which completely block sleep. But using Sleep Aid has also convinced me that macOS isn’t doing sleep right, with its two simplistic sets of settings for mains and battery power.
Two sets sufficed when the world was simpler, and features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi could readily be turned off whenever a Mac slept. During the day, for example when you go to lunch, you’d probably prefer to leave those and other features active, even if that meant slightly higher power usage. If you recharge your Mac in the evening and leave it to sleep overnight, you then want it to sleep as deeply as possible, without any chance of waking, to conserve battery power for the morning. Sleep Aid does use a ‘Better Sleep Controller’ to disable some services to enable and maintain sleep, which is a good step in this direction.
Logically, that might take two different sets of settings, in addition to that for mains power. As far as I’m aware, even the authoritative
pmset doesn’t offer that, nor is there any scope for scheduling it in a Focus.
- Forget trying to make sense of battery usage or fiddling with
pmset, use Sleep Aid.
- Apple needs to look more closely at what users need from sleep, and how to deliver it effectively. That will almost certainly involve more than two sets of settings.
- Problems of insomnia are increasing because of the many new and improved features in macOS that we’ve come to rely on. Sleep controls need to keep pace with this rise in features that interfere with sleep.
- If you use a MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, Sleep Aid is your friend.
Declaration of interest: my copy of Sleep Aid was provided free of charge to enable me to assess and review it. My opinions are fiercely independent, and Ohanaware hasn’t sponsored this or anything else here.