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 option on the Mac brings a number of benefits, including less eyestrain and better sleep. That's quite a lot from what is arguably a very simple feature of the Mac OS. Night Shift alters the color balance of your Mac's display, reducing bright blue light in the evening hours, and restoring the blues in the daytime.

In its description of Night Shift, Apple explains that reducing the blue light and shifting the color balance towards the warm end of the spectrum produces an image that is 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 as many have mentioned, 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 for you.

Night Shift Minimum Requirements

Believe it or not, Night Shift has fairly stringent minimum requirements, and it's these requirements that trip up many users, thinking their Macs are ready for Night Shift when, according to Apple, their Macs and/or displays aren't supported.

In order to use Night Shift, your Mac must be included in the list below, and running macOS Sierra 10.12.4 or later.

  • Mac mini: late 2012 (Macmini6,1) or newer
  • 21.5-inch iMac: late 2012 (iMac13,1) or newer
  • 27-inch iMac: late 2012 (iMac13,2) or newer
  • Mac Pro: late 2013 (MacPro6,1) or newer
  • 12-inch MacBook: early 2015 (MacBook8,1) or newer
  • 11-inch MacBook Air: mid-2012 (MacBookAir5,1) or newer
  • 13-inch MacBook Air: mid-2012 (MacBookAir5,2) or newer
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro: mid-2012 (MacBookPro9,2) or newer
  • 15-inch MacBook Pro: mid-2012 (MacBookPro9,1) 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 monitors is small, but it doesn't seem to be a real impediment to using Night Shift. Many users have been successful using Night Shift with other monitor brands and models.

If your Mac meets the above requirements, you should be able to enable Night Shift and make use of its features.

Enabling and Managing Night Shift on Your Mac

Night Shift's primary interface has been added to the existing Display preference pane. You can use the Display preference pane to enable Night Shift, set a schedule, and adjust the color temperature of the display when Night Shift is running.

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking its icon in the Dock, or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Select the Displays preference pane.
  3. If your Mac meets all the system requirements listed above, you'll see a Night Shift tab; go ahead and select it. If you're missing the Night Shift tab, you'll find troubleshooting tips and alternate ways to gain a Night Shift-like function further on in this article.
  4. Use the Schedule drop-down menu to turn Night Shift off, use the built-in Sunset to Sunrise schedule, or create a custom schedule.
    1. Sunset to Sunrise will turn Night Shift on at the local sunset time and turn Night Shift off at the local sunrise time.
    2. Custom allows you to select the time Night Shift will turn on and turn off.
    3. The Off selection turns Night Shift off.
  5. Make your selection from the Schedule drop-down menu.
  6. You can also turn Night Shift on, regardless of the current time. To turn Night Shift on, place a checkmark in the Manual box. When manually turned on, Night Shift will remain enabled until sunrise the following day, or until it's turned off, either by a custom schedule or removal of the checkmark from the Manual box.
  7. The Color Temperature slider sets how warm the display will appear when Night Shift is turned on. If you click and hold on the slider, you'll see a preview of how your display will look with Night Shift turned on. Drag the slider until the desired effect is reached.

Using the Notification Center to Control Night Shift

While the Display preference pane is the primary interface for Night Shift, you can also use the Notification Center to manually turn Night Shift on or off.

Open the Notification Center by swiping left with two fingers on your trackpad, or by clicking the Notification Center item in the menu bar. Once the Notification Center opens, scroll up to the top of it to see the Night Shift switch. Click on the switch to manually turn Night Shift on or off.

Night Shift Issues

If the Night Shift controls are not showing up, the most likely cause is your Mac not meeting the minimum requirements, as outlined above. 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 the Mac OS, you may need to perform an NVRAM reset for Night Shift to appear.

The external display isn't displaying any Night Shift color changes, although the main monitor is: This is a bit of a touchy issue with Night Shift. Apple says Night Shift works with external displays, but also says it won't work with projectors or televisions. Both of those types of external displays are usually connected via an HDMI port, and that may be the actual issue; many of the people reporting external display problems are using an HDMI connection. Try using a Thunderbolt or Display Port connection instead.

Alternatives to Night Shift

Night Shift on the Mac works best with newer Mac models. This seems to be due to a common code block with the iOS version of Night Shift. As best as I can figure out, Night Shift makes use of the CoreBrightness framework and when the MacOS doesn't detect a recent version of the framework, Night Shift is disabled.

If you really must have Night Shift and are willing to hack your Mac, it's possible to replace the CoreBrightness framework with a patched version that will allow Night Shift to run.

It's not recommended to patch the CoreBrightness framework. The link provided above is for the advanced Mac user who has taken reasonable precautions, including having current backups, and who has 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 will run on both current and older Macs. It also has quite a few additional features, including better support for external displays and the ability to specify apps that will disable F.lux from running (an important consideration when working with apps that need color fidelity), as well as better scheduling and color temperature control.

You can also find additional information about removing blue light from your computer's display, as well as additional apps that perform the blue light filtering for you.