Shutting down your computer is usually not necessary.
At the end of your workday, you may power off your laptop and walk away until the next day. If so, you’re not alone. According to a Panda Security survey, 37 percent of those surveyed turn off their computer every night.
But who is right: those who turn off their computer every night, or those who leave it on?
Sleep Mode vs. Shutdown
If you look at your computer’s "turn off" options, you’ll see "Sleep," "Shut Down" and "Restart" (as well as "Sign Out," but for our purposes we don’t need to worry about that last one).
Think of Sleep mode as the computer shutting its eyes real quick. It keeps all programs and files going while you run to the bathroom. Once you’re back, the computer comes back on, and it’s ready to go.
"Sleep mode puts your system into a low-power mode, but your apps and data are still in system memory," says Geek Squad agent Derek Meister.
That quickness comes with some pros and cons. "Sleep mode helps everything pop up faster when you get back to your computer, but it also increases the possibility of losing data if the system loses power unexpectedly," he says.
Depending on your computer, it may also have a Hibernating mode. Hibernating occurs when you haven’t used your laptop for a while (think an hour or two), and the computer goes a step further than sleep into hibernation. Hibernation may take a little longer for the computer to wake up, but it is safer if the power goes out since it saves the current session’s data to the hard drive.
In the end, both modes are similar. "The modes are essentially a way to conserve power while still keeping programs and files open, so everything is generally as you left it when you get back to your computer," says Meister.
Shut Down closes all programs and files you have open, but doesn’t shut off the Windows kernel, which is the core of the operating system that enables the software and the hardware to function together. Restart will actually shut down all your files, in addition to the Windows kernel, before resuming operations.
OK, But Should You Turn Off Your Computer Every Night?
The short answer is no.
The longer answer: It depends.
Sleep mode overnight can be beneficial as it can allow it to perform any maintenance tasks scheduled — think full system virus scans, doing a full backup of the hard drive or checking for software updates, says Meister. "Security software will perform background scans while the computer is idle, as will backup software."
A couple of days in Sleep mode overnight won’t make much difference, but you may start seeing issues with performance over time. There is such a thing as too much Sleep mode.
If specific programs are lagging or files are not loading correctly, Meister recommends restarting your computer. This reboot will help clear out temporary issues and free up memory from any background apps that didn’t close correctly.
"Think of a reboot as cleaning up all the papers on your desk. Filing them away gives you a clean workspace in the morning, whereas Sleep or Hibernate mode leaves your files and folders out so you can immediately jump back in," he says.
If you keep your computer on overnight, it’s probably a good idea to get in the habit of restarting it once a week. It’s always good to invest in a surge protector to protect any laptop or computer that’s connected to power in the event of power loss.
"You might consider shutting down your computer if you’re not going to be using it for the next few hours, like at the end of a work shift or when you’re heading to bed," suggests Meister. "This way, your computer is refreshed and ready for the next day."
Now That’s Interesting
Modern computers left in Sleep mode don’t consume as much electricity as they once did. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, you only save a watt or two by turning off a computer versus placing it in sleep mode.