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Perchance to Dream

I am often asked about the difference between “sleep” and “hibernate,” and whether either of these choices is preferable to “restart” and/or “shutdown.”

Let’s look at what each does and when to choose them.


Shutting down instructs your computer to systematically close all open programs, turn off the operating system, and power off the whole machine. To use the computer again, you will need to press the power button and then wait until the machine boots up.

You might shut down your computer if you are not planning to use it for an extended period of time.


The “Restart” option is much the same as the “Shutdown” option but it saves you one step: pressing the power button to turn the computer back on. Telling the computer to restart tells it to systematically close all open programs, turn off the operating system, and power off the whole machine. Once the computer is off, it will begin the startup process in a few seconds on it’s own, without your input. You will still need to wait until it fully boots before you can use the machine.

You most often have to restart your computer after installing software updates; some updates will not take effect until the system reboots.You might also choose to restart the computer if your computer exhibits strange behavior and nothing you do seems to help. Very often, the problem will correct itself in the rebooting process.

Sleep (also called “Standby” in Windows XP)

When you put your computer in “Sleep” mode, the screen goes dark and the computer rests in a low-power state. How you wake it back up depends on your type of computer:

  • If you have closed the lid on a laptop, you need only open the lid to wake it up.
  • You might press the spacebar
  • You might press any key
  • You might move the mouse or touch the touchpad

When your computer wakes up, you will see on the screen those images/programs you were using when you put the machine in sleep mode. In only a second or two you can resume working from where you left off.

You typically put your computer to sleep during the course of the day, perhaps while you are traveling, and often overnight when you wish to quickly resume working from the place you left off.

Hibernate (Windows only)

The “Hibernate” option is a hybrid of “Shutdown” and “Sleep:” it powers the computer all the way down, but remembers what you were last doing. While it is not using any power, you do not have to wait for the computer to boot from the beginning before you can get back to work. This takes a slighter greater toll on your computer than does “sleep,” but it will save power if you have limited battery life.

My recommendations:

  • Use the sleep mode most often so you can resume working right away
  • Restart your computer about once a week or so, and when an update demands it
  • Shut down your computer when you do not plan to use it for an extended period of time

I hope this helps.

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