Sleep mode vs Silent Mode vs Do Not Disturb vs Theater mode on your smartwatch

There are now lots of modes available on your watch, to help you manage the times in your day when you don’t want to be interrupted by a bunch of alerts, notifications, calls, texts, and other distractions.

Most popular smartwatches and trackers, like Apple Watch, Samsung, Google wearables, Fitbit, and Garmin, offer some or all of these different modes or focuses (Apple): Silent Mode, Do Not Disturb Mode, Theater Mode, and Sleep Mode along with Airplane mode. 

You may be thinking, what’s the difference between them all, and what do they all do?

Understanding these modes helps you customize your wearable to suit your life, needs, and different times of the day (like when at the office or with clients, working out at the gym, at a movie, performance, or church, and so forth.)

For example, maybe you may want to receive notifications via haptic alerts only (vibrations) and not have your watch beep or broadcast an audio sound so you don’t disturb others around you. 

Or you might unknowingly have a mode on and aren’t getting the notifications, reminders, and alerts you want. Turning on one mode versus another can make a big difference in what your wearable shows and doesn’t show (or vibrates/makes a sound.)

While there are a lot of modes available, and some have overlapping features, each does a slightly different thing. 

Here’s what they all do.

Related reading

What are all these do-not-disturb modes on my smartwatch?

Sometimes, we don’t want distractions and interruptions (or can’t have them) from our watches. That’s why it’s important to know what each mode does so you can switch it on and off as your environment demands.

It’s easy to get confused!

If you’re unsure when to use each mode, this article looks at each mode, describing what it does and doesn’t do. And we recommend when you should (and shouldn’t) use each mode.

You find these modes in your Control Center or Quick Settings on most watches–usually by swiping up or down from your watch face.

Silent Mode = no audio Apple Watch silent mode

Silent mode mutes the sounds on your smartwatch, but you still get your haptic notifications and alerts (vibrations.) Your screen continues to light up as notifications etc. arrive, and all other watch functions continue to work normally.

When you activate Silent Mode, your watch won’t make any beeps, buzzes, or other alert tones, including alarms. But it still vibrates to notify you of incoming calls, texts, and other notifications and keeps the screen on if you use an always-on watch face.

Do Not Disturb Mode = no audio and no haptics (vibrations) Pixel Watch Do Not Disturb mode

Do Not Disturb (DND) turns off both sound and vibration notifications so you aren’t disturbed by incoming calls or other notifications. It also prevents your watch’s screen from lighting up when a notification or call comes in.

Unlike silent mode, Do Not Disturb does not vibrate when notifications come, it is completely silent. However, some alarms and important health notifications (like high and low heart rate notifications) continue to work.

With DND, your screen continues to display your watch face, always on display faces show the time, and your screen lights up when you raise your wrist to look at the watch.

On some models, you can customize your watch’s Do Not Disturb mode to allow some contacts’ calls and messages to come through. 

Even when you turn on DND mode, your watch still receives calls, text messages, and other notifications–it just doesn’t ring, vibrate, or light up the screen as they arrive. You’ll see all those missed calls, text messages, and notifications when you interact with your watch.

Sleep Mode = dark screen and wake-up alarms only Sleep mode called Bedtime mode on Samsung Galaxy Watch

Sleep mode (also called Bedtime mode or Goodnight mode) turns off sound and vibration notifications so incoming calls or other notifications don’t disrupt your sleep. However, it doesn’t mute alarms, so if you set any wake-up alarms, these continue to work.

Sleep mode also turns off the always-on screen and disables raise-to-wake. Depending on the watch, Sleep mode may also activate a low-light screen that shows only the time. 

On many watches, you can schedule sleep mode to automatically start and stop when you set up a sleep schedule.

Sleep mode is the strictest mode for turning off both audio and haptic notifications and alerts. The only alert that works in sleep mode is your wake-up alarm.

Sleep mode is also a good option if your watch is running low on battery, and you don’t need to get any notifications or alerts.

On some models, you can customize your watch’s Sleep mode to allow some priority contacts’ text messages and calls to come through.

Even when you turn on Sleep mode, your watch still receives calls, text messages, and other notifications–it just doesn’t ring, vibrate, or light up the screen as they arrive.
When you turn off sleep mode, you’ll see all those missed calls, text messages, and notifications.

Theater Mode = dark screen and haptics only Samsung Galaxy Watch theater and cinema mode

Turning on Theater Mode (sometimes called Cinema mode) mutes all notification, alarm, and alert sounds, including system sounds, but you continue to get all your haptic notifications and alerts. So, you still know when you get an incoming text or another alert because you’ll feel a vibration (haptic alert) from your watch.

Where theater mode differs from silent mode is that it keeps your screen dark, and your screen won’t light up (unless you intentionally tap it or press a button.) It does this by turning off your Watch’s always-on display and disables raise-to-wake so your watch’s screen won’t turn on when you lift your wrist. 

If your watch supports a walkie-talkie feature, theater mode turns this off, too. 

Theater mode is the strictest mode for turning off audio notifications. You still get haptic notifications and alerts. So, in theater mode, you don’t need to worry about missing any important calls, texts, or other notifications. Your watch still vibrates to let you know there’s a new notification!

Theater mode is also a good option if your watch is low on battery, but you still want to be informed if an important notification comes in.

Airplane mode = no cellular connection Fossil wearOS Airplane mode

Now, where all the other modes continue to connect to cellular services, Airplane mode disables all wireless communication services and radios on your watch, including 5G/LTE and GPS/GNSS. That means that any calls, data, and text messages cannot be sent or received from your watch via your mobile carrier while Airplane mode is on.

Airplane mode turns off cellular service to prevent any possible interference with the aircraft’s communication and navigation systems.

While Airplane mode stops your watch from transmitting radio-frequency signals, most Airlines still allow Bluetooth connections so your watch continues to connect to its paired phone and headphones. And many airlines also allow you to connect to onboard WiFi.

Other silent modes Focus mode for Fitbit as a quiet mode

Fitbit offers a quiet mode on its watches called Focus mode that turns off notifications and calls while using the Exercise app. Apple Watch also offers a similar feature for its Workout app.

You can also set up some watches to automatically turn on Do Not Disturb when the watch  detects that its user is driving (using information from the sensors about your movement activity.)

Additionally, Apple offers a bunch of different modes, called Focus modes, to limit distractions and help you concentrate on whatever you are doing. You can choose from preselected focuses such as fitness, work, personal, mindfulness, or reading, and you can also create your own. Apple Watch focuses

You customize each focus to only allow notifications you want to receive and can even let other people and apps know you’re busy.

Apple also has the option to share the focus between all your Apple devices. So when you turn on a Focus on one device, all your devices where you’re signed in with the same Apple ID automatically use that Focus.

What happens when my device is on one of these modes and someone calls or texts me? phone call on apple watch

When using Do Not Disturb Mode and Sleep Mode

The call automatically goes to voicemail and won’t ring to distract you. Text messages arrive, but your watch won’t vibrate or make a sound to notify you, and your screen won’t turn on with a notification.

However, you can usually set your Do Not Disturb Mode or Sleep Mode preferences to allow calls and texts from specific people (or favorites) in your contact list, like family members or close friends.

Depending on your smartwatch brand and model, you may also be able to create exceptions for repeat callers (when the same person or phone number calls multiple times within a few minutes.)

When using Theater mode or Silent mode

With Theater mode or Silent mode, an incoming call or text message vibrates your watch but does not ring.

With silent mode, the call information or text message shows on your watch’s screen, and you can choose to answer the call or let it go to voicemail.

With theater mode, your watch’s screen stays dark until you tap the screen or press a button. Once you tap the screen or press a button, you can then choose to review the text message or answer the call on your watch. If you don’t interact, tap the screen or press a button, the call goes to voicemail.

When using Airplane mode

Your call automatically goes to voicemail since your watch and the paired phone are disconnected from a mobile network.

You also won’t get any SMS or MMS text messages in Airplane mode since these depend on a cellular network connection.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a good understanding of the differences between all these modes on your smartwatch.

  • Silent mode: Turns off sound for all notifications and calls/texts, but you continue to get all haptic notifications. The screen remains on and shows all notifications.
  • Do Not Disturb: Silences all notification sounds and haptics. You can make exceptions for priority contacts and repeat callers. The screen remains on and shows all notifications.
  • Theater or Cinema mode: Turns off your screen and silences notifications and incoming calls/texts sound but keeps haptic alerts active. 
  • Sleep or Bedtime mode: Turns off your screen and silences all sound and haptic notifications except alarms, priority contacts, and possibly repeat callers.
  • Airplane mode: Turns off all radios on your watch, such as 5G/LTE, GPS/GNSS, and possibly Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The screen remains on.

All these modes help you temporarily disable your watch’s notifications and alerts, system sounds, screen wake-up, and more so you can stay on track with all the things you need to do, from work to play!

And now, you should be able to use them in ways that fit and help your life.

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I have a first-class honors Physiotherapy degree and a second class honors Sports Science degree. I am also a certified Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist. Before completing my University education in the United Kingdom, I worked as a fitness instructor and athletics coach for many years. Since 2008 I have been practicing in the UK as a Chartered Physiotherapist, and traveling to European and World Cup tournaments with the Wales Masters field hockey team as their physiotherapist. I am passionate and actively involved in health and fitness and in the process of research and writing. I believe everyone should have access to the latest health and wellness research in simple, easy to understand language. In 2009 I published a research article ‘Is Yoga An Effective Treatment for Low Back Pain’ in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Currently, I am a freelance writer producing content relating to physiotherapy and health and wellness. I love anything animal! I have three rescued dogs and two parrots. I placed third lady in my city’s annual marathon (dressed as a bunny!) to raise funds for an animal welfare charity.


  1. Hi Zena,

    Thanks for the thorough explanation of all these different modes.

    I realized I often use DND mode when I really just want to silence sounds, and I often use theater mode instead of sleep mode at night.

    I’m going to try using silent mode (instead of DND) and Sleep mode (instead of theater mode) and see how these work for me.


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