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The Fastest Way to Lock or Sleep Your Screen in Mac OS X

Posted by Jim Tanous on May 23, 2013
Lock Screen Mac OS X

Locking your Mac’s display (or “sleeping” the display) can be a great security measure when paired with a user account password. While it won’t prevent the outright theft of your Mac, it can be a quick and easy way to prevent nosy family members or coworkers from getting access to your data.
In order for a Mac lock screen command to be effective, you’ll first need to configure System Preferences to require your user account password when unlocking or waking up. To do this, head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General. Check the box next to “Require Password” and set an interval that meets your workflow. If you want the highest level of security, set it to “immediately.” If you often find yourself accidentally locking your screen, set it to 5 seconds so that you can quickly unlock the display without having to enter your password.
Lock Screen Shortcut Mac
Next, you’ll need to decide on the exact functionality you want: lock (sleep) the display only, or sleep the entire system. Locking or sleeping the display will shut the display off but keep the Mac running in the background. If you performed the steps above to require a password, users will need to enter the correct account password in order to unlock the display.

Lock or Sleep Only Your Mac’s Screen

To lock your Mac’s screen, simultaneously press the following keys: Control + Shift + Eject. If you have a newer Mac that doesn’t have an optical drive (and thus has no eject key on the keyboard, such as the Retina MacBook Pro), the command is Control + Shift + Power. In both cases, you’ll see your Mac’s display shut off immediately, while the system continues to run in the background.

Related: Once your screen is locked, learn how to set a custom lock screen message.

Performing a lock or display sleep command is useful for situations in which you’ll only be gone for a few minutes, as it allows you to jump immediately back to work. It’s also a good idea to use if you want to lock your Mac but have applications running in the background, such as a rendering operation or an encryption sequence. The Mac will still chug away at its task; the only difference is that anyone without the password won’t be able to access it.

Sleep Your Entire Mac

The second option is to sleep the Mac entirely. MacBook owners are familiar with sleep; it occurs every time they shut their computer’s lid, or automatically after a user-defined period of time. But users can also trigger an immediate sleep state with a simple keyboard command: Command + Option + Eject. Optical drive-less Mac owners can repeat the substitution discussed above and replace the Eject key with the Power key, resulting in a command for Retina MacBook Pro owners, et al. of Command + Option + Power.
Your Mac will immediately go to sleep, shutting down all functions and requiring a password to resume. Users running on battery power who need to step away from their Macs may prefer this option over a locked screen. The practical effect is the same (preventing others from accessing your Mac), but this latter option saves battery power while the user is away. On the other hand, this will stop all background tasks, discussed above, and may not be ideal for users who want their Macs to keep working while they grab a coffee or stop for a bathroom break. Also, it takes longer to wake up from a sleep state than from a display lock state, although on modern Macs with fast SSD storage the time difference between the two options has shrunk considerably.
It’s recommended that users experiment with both options to find the one that suits them best. It’s also likely that users, especially those “on the go” with MacBooks, will find occasion to use both frequently. Regardless, having a strong user account password and taking a moment to ensure that your Mac is locked while you are away are both crucial steps to protecting your data.

27 thoughts on “The Fastest Way to Lock or Sleep Your Screen in Mac OS X”

Irl says:
My late-2013 Macbook Pro Retina doesn’t respond to any of the above, but I stumbled on a Terminal command that does what I want: It basically activates Fast User Switching to go to the login screen. I use Keyboard Maestro to invoke this one-line script, but you could also do it via Applescript, I expect.
/System/Library/CoreServices/Menu\ Extras/User.menu/Contents/Resources/CGSession -suspend
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Abraham Kim says:
The GateKeeper does this automatically. If the user walks away the computer locks automatically. If the user walks back the computer will unlock automatically. It works by communicating with a bluetooth keyfob. The keyfob communicates with the computer to make sure the computer gets locked once the user is out of range,
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Kris McDonald says:
Doing this works…. sorta. However, on my iMac it also closing some programs which is not good.
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vipin says:
very nice, it was surprisingly tough to find this information since the sleep drop down does not show this shortcut.Also its silly MacBook gives no options of changing the default settings like preventing sleep of MacBook when the lid is closed. I could not find a place where i can change the shortcut keys for putting a mac to sleep as well.
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Arun Kumar says:
Shift+Control+Power worked..thanks
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Arun Kumar says:
doesnt work in MacBook Air…
Control+Shift+Power
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Emerson says:
What would the combination be for the new MacBook Pros with TouchBar?
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Fiyero109 says:
command option power is the same as control shift power, sorry
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fengyao.me says:
thanks
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Marius Piedallu van Wyk says:
I don’t have an eject button on my new external keyboard… how to do that now?
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Marius Piedallu van Wyk says:
Ok, found a way, even though it will sleep my computer instead of just locking it (dropping any active connections if you have any). Add Keyboard shortcut to “All Applications” called “Sleep” and link it to the keys of my choice.
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Tuna Fish #5 says:
just be really careful with Command + Option + Power: it’s only 1 fatfinger away from an instant reboot via Command + Control + Power!!
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Elijah Kyungu Elie says:
thanks very helpful!
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Angel Chat says:
Love this solution, is almost like in windows…. im a new mac user 🙂
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Joe says:
Why can this setting be changed without the “lock” in the lower left hand corner being clicked?
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TekRevue says:
The “Require Password” option can be changed without admin privileges (i.e., clicking the lock icon) because it’s a user-specific setting that only affects that individual user account. If a standard user sets a password requirement and walks away from the Mac, an admin user can always gain access by clicking “switch user” on the lock screen and then logging into their own admin account. From there, they can shut down the Mac or modify the standard user account as necessary.
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BB says:
One addition to the steps listed : You need to restart your mac to take this changes effective.
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GrumpyCat says:
Don’t need to restart to enable changes to screen sleep or security of sleep.
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virae says:
This little app that does the trick — http://keylock.io
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Amon Bennett says:
Great, now how do I unlock it?
I was just trying out shortcuts to see if it would work, it clearly works and now I don’t know how to unlock my computer. Please help.
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TekRevue says:
Amon,
If you have a password on your user account, press any key on your keyboard to wake the Mac up. It will then prompt you for your user password. If you don’t have a user password, the system should just wake up with a key press.
If you’re having trouble, make sure your Mac’s screen brightness is up. If the Mac still won’t respond, hold the power button down for about 7 to 10 seconds. Note that this is called a “hard reset” and may result in the loss of unsaved data (such as open unsaved documents). The Mac should power off. Wait about 10 seconds once it’s off then press the power button once to turn it back on. If you notice that your Mac is not waking up after sleep and requires a hard reset to work again, it may indicate a hardware issue such as a failing hard drive or bad RAM.
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Amon Bennett says:
Thanks. I pressed every key possible and never got the prompt to enter my password. ( in theory, I assume the password I would be prompted to enter would be the same password used for logging onto the system.) I did eventually have to turn the computer off and reboot as the function did not work as described. (that was scary)
Balachander Ganesan says:
Typical mac user.
Completely dumb!
Christian Henry says:
Typical Mac user. “You must be holding it wrong!”
Amon Bennett’s probably more like a typical *MacBook Air* user.
For well over a year, some of the MBAs had an issue where, under certain conditions, if you put your Mac to sleep, it *won’t* wake up.
I, myself, ran into this just this past weekend on my wife’s MBA running 10.8.x. I selected Apple Menu -> Sleep, while plugged in. About a minute later, I tried waking it up, and no key sequence would wake it up. Even holding down the power button for 15+ seconds didn’t work.
I ended up having to Control-Command-Power, because even Control-Command-Option-Power didn’t work.
Aleks says:
Get on Mavericks, just hit the power button.
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Milo says:
Thank you for this article it helped me very good. I love to use the keyboard shortcuts. Only for me it looks like that the keychain way is the most easy way, because the icon in the upper right corner. I’ve found a youtube instruction guide what tells how to enable the Keychain icon. Maybe it’s helpful for other people..
http://youtu.be/OVKrF7eTnp8
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tedd4u says:
I use “Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Hot Corners …” and set the top left corner to “Start Screen Saver.” Along with the “require immediately” setting described above. Just fling the cursor to the top left when you walk away.
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Amr Lotfy says:
That’s Excellent, thank you very much !
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Dan says:
Personaly I like the keychain way. I have it pushed out to our labs so users can lock the screen this way as well. In keychain.app preferences you can Show keychain status in the menu bar and it shows as a little lock icon. Simply select the lock and lock screen and the screen saver kicks on. Also ways to set it to ctrl+alt+delete like Windows if needed. But I like the Lock Icon in the menu bar way. Visual and easy to use.
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TekRevue says:
That’s true, Dan. Visual indicators like the padlock icon can be helpful, especially in multi-user environments. But I’m always going to be a keyboard shortcut guy 🙂
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Lik Fenix says:
Thanks Dan – that’s exactly what I needed!
The keyboard shortcuts described in the article still respect the setting in the security & privacy tab – so if I don’t have an immediate lock there, they don’t actually lock the screen, just put the screen or computer to sleep.
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