How to Enable Night Shift on Your Mac

Reduce eyestrain and get a good night's sleep

Woman lying in bed using laptop

 Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

The Night Shift feature in macOS offers many benefits, including reducing eyestrain and helping you sleep better. That's quite a lot from what is arguably a simple operating system feature. Night Shift alters the color balance of your Mac's display, reducing bright blue light in the evening hours and restoring those blues in the daytime.

In its description of Night Shift, Apple explains that reducing the blue light and shifting the color balance toward the warm end of the color spectrum produce an image that's easier on the eyes. Apple also says that less eyestrain in the evening hours promotes better sleep patterns.

We're all for better sleep, but finding the controls for Night Shift and setting up the service can be a bit of a chore. So, let's take a look at how to get Night Shift working on your machine.

These instructions were created for macOS Catalina (10.15) but should apply to many earlier versions of macOS and Mac OS X. Some older versions of the operating system may have slightly different menu or dialog box names.

Night Shift Minimum Requirements

Believe it or not, Night Shift has fairly stringent minimum requirements, and these requirements often trip users up. You may think that your Mac is ready for Night Shift when, according to Apple, your Mac or displays aren't supported.

To use Night Shift, your Mac must be included in the following list and run macOS Sierra (10.12.4) or later:

  • Mac mini: late 2012 or newer
  • iMac: late 2012 or newer
  • Mac Pro: late 2013 or newer
  • MacBook 12-inch: early 2015 or newer
  • MacBook Air: mid-2012 or newer
  • MacBook Pro: mid-2012 or newer

Night Shift also supports the following external displays:

  • Apple LED Cinema Display
  • Apple Thunderbolt Display
  • LG UltraFine 5K Display
  • LG UltraFine 4K Display

The list of supported displays is small, but it doesn't seem to be an impediment to using Night Shift. Many people use Night Shift successfully with other display brands and models.

If your Mac meets these requirements, you should be able to enable Night Shift and use its features.

How to enable and manage Night Shift on Your Mac

Night Shift's primary interface has been added to the macOS Display window in System Preferences. You can use the Display window to enable Night Shift, set a schedule, and adjust the color temperature of the display when Night Shift is enabled. To do so, complete the following steps:

  1. On the Dock, select System Preferences (or select the Apple menu > System Preferences).

  2. In System Preferences, select Displays.

  3. Select the Night Shift tab.

    If you don't see the Night Shift tab, you'll find troubleshooting tips and alternate ways to gain a Night Shift–like function later in this article.

  4. From the Schedule drop-down list, select one of the following options:

    • Off disables Night Shift.
    • Sunset to Sunrise turns Night Shift on at sunset local time and off at sunrise local time.
    • Custom enables you to select the time Night Shift turns on and off.

    To turn Night Shift on regardless of the current time, select the Manual check box. Night Shift will remain enabled until sunrise the following day or you turn it off.

  5. Adjust the Color Temperature slider.

Using this slider, you can set how warm or cool the display appear when Night Shift is turned on. Select and hold the slider to see a preview of how your display will look with Night Shift turned on.

To Use Notification Center to Control Night Shift

The Display window in System Preferences is the primary interface for Night Shift, but you can also use Notification Center to turn Night Shift on or off manually. To do so, complete the following steps:

  1. Swipe left with two fingers on your trackpad or select the Notification Center icon at the top right of the menu bar.

  2. Select the Today tab.

  3. Scroll to the top, then select the Night Shift switch to turn Night Shift on or off manually.

Troubleshooting Issues With Night Shift

Mac users have run across two issues with Night Shift. Here's how to troubleshoot them.

Can't See the Night Shift Controls

If you don't see the Night Shift controls, the most likely cause is that your Mac doesn't meet the minimum requirements. It can also be an issue if you're using an external display in conjunction with your Mac's built-in display. If this is the first time you've tried to access Night Shift after upgrading to a Night Shift–compatible version of macOS, you may need to perform a nonvilatile RAM (NVRAM) reset for Night Shift to appear.

Night Shift Color Changes Don't Appear on the External Display

But, what if the external display doesn't show any Night Shift color changes but the main or built-in display does? Apple says that Night Shift works with external displays but not with projectors or televisions. Both types of external display typically connect through an HDMI port, and that may be the actual issue: Many of the people reporting external display problems are using an HDMI connection. Instead, use a Thunderbolt or Display Port connection.

Alternatives to Night Shift

Night Shift on the Mac works best with newer Mac models, probably because of a common code block with the iOS and iPadOS versions of Night Shift. Night Shift uses something called the CoreBrightness framework, and when macOS doesn't detect a recent version of that framework, it disables Night Shift.

If you absolutely must have Night Shift and are willing to hack your Mac, you can replace the CoreBrightness framework with a patched version that allows Night Shift to run.

Patching the CoreBrightness framework isn't recommended. The link provided is for advanced Mac users who have taken reasonable precautions, including having current backups, and who have a spare Mac to use for experimentation.

A better solution is to install F.lux, an application that performs the same function as Night Shift but runs on both current and older Mac models. It also has quite a few additional features, including better support for external displays, the ability to specify apps that will disable F.lux (an important consideration when working with apps that require color fidelity), and better scheduling and color temperature control.

Visit Lifewire for additional information about removing blue light from your computer's display and additional apps that perform blue light filtering.