To Sleep or Not to Sleep

I already have Caffeine installed on my computer and it’s pretty great – no more computer going to sleep while I’m watching a movie or reading a long article. Unfortunately, the problem with Caffeine is that I always (ALWAYS) forget to turn it off. That means sometimes I leave my computer open for hours and it just never goes to sleep. That’s not too good, so I decided I definitely needed to check out an alternative.

I recently heard about this cool new Mac app called Should I Sleep. It does the same type of thing as programs like Caffeine (keeps your computer from going to sleep while you’re using it), but rather than always staying on until you manually turn it off, Should I Sleep uses different sensors to prevent your computer from going to sleep. The sensors do things like detect sound and movement, to make sure your computer stays on where you’re around, but automatically goes to sleep when you leave. It seemed like a pretty novel idea, so I decided to check it out.

The Five Sensors

Should I Sleep currently comes with five sensors available for in-app purchase. You can purchase sensors individually or make one purchase which includes all sensors as well as any future upgrades and additional sensors. Use the preferences menu to check the different sensors you’ve purchased and to make adjustments as needed.

The catalog of the various sensors available for purchase.

The facial detection sensor is first up and comes with the standard app download. Facial detection uses the camera app to take a number of pictures, seeking out eyes, nose and mouth. There can be multiple faces present, just make sure that the lighting is decent. You can adjust the accuracy of this sensor to choose between less images/lower accuracy and less memory/power used or more images/higher accuracy and thus more memory/power used.

The camera motion sensor takes short video clips. The clips are then compared to a threshold for variation in movement. If movement is detected, Should I Sleep prevents your computer from going to sleep. You can adjust the sensor for an environment with more or less movement for better accuracy.

The settings for the camera motion sensor.

The sound activity works under the same principle as the other sensors. Your computer’s microphone is used to check for sound around you. It records short audio clips and compares them to a threshold. If sound is heard, it prevents your computer from going to sleep. As usual, you can adjust the sensor based upon your environment, whether it’s extremely loud or library quiet.

It’s worth noting that you can test any of the sensors from the preferences screen. Just click the “Test it now!!” button to see if the threshold you selected is appropriate for your environment.

The last two sensors are quite simple. The external monitor checks to see if any secondary displays or projectors are plugged into your computer. If there are, it prevents sleep. The download monitor prevents your computer from going to sleep if the network usage is above a certain threshold, indicating a download of some sort.

Testing out the download sensor.

Using the App

So now it comes down to actually using the app. The first step is to go into your preferences and make sure that any sensors you have installed are configured for the environment you find yourself in. Adjust for noise and movement accordingly – a coffee shop is much different than your home office, for example.

After the sensors are configured, make sure the rest of the app is set up to your specifications. Under the “general” section of the preferences section you can choose whether or not the program starts at startup. If you have it set to not open up, you can choose whether the program displays a welcome message or not.

The general preferences menu.

You can also access other preferences from the dropdown menu accessed through the menubar icon. Here you can choose which sensors are active – you might need to disable sound or camera in certain situations, for example, so easy access is provided here. You can also choose how long it takes the app to keep your computer awake. Choose from half an hour, an hour, two hours, four or simply set it to always keep your computer awake.

The menu from the menubar icon.

Once it’s all configured, you just have to wait around. The app runs automatically in the background if you have any operating system prior to Mountain Lion installed. If you have Mountain Lion installed, you can choose whether you want a notification or not when Should I Sleep takes effect. This notification just states that the app is utilizing its sensors to determine if your computer actually should go to sleep at that moment or not. If you notice that your computer is sleeping when it shouldn’t, you need to go back and tweak the sensors.

A Valid Replacement?

At first, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to recommend Should I Sleep I downloaded all of the sensors immediately upon purchase and was quickly overwhelmed with making tweaks to the sensors. It took me a while to get the hang of it – I was having to constantly make minute adjustments. After using the program for a few days though I’m happy to announce that it works really well! I’ve gotten the hang of the needed adjustments and I’m able to easily adjust to familiar settings based upon the environment I find myself in.

Should I Sleep is definitely replacing Caffeine on my computer. It offers the same functionality and works really well, and now I never have to worry about forgetting to disable the app. I’ve left my computer alone several times now and every time it has gone to sleep just as it should, without me having to remember to turn off an app.

So I’m a big fan of the app. What about you? Have you tried? Are you planning to try it now? Do you have another alternative you prefer instead? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Keep your computer from going to sleep while reading a long article or watching a movie with Should I Sleep, a menubar program which uses sensors to keep your computer awake when you're around.