Ah, Windows Updates. When they work, they seamlessly keep our computers up to date. But sometimes they are the bane of our tech lives: randomly failing, or causing our PCs to restart at the worst possible time.
That’s why Windows rolled out the ‘active hours’ feature a few years ago. This was Microsoft’s attempt to solve frequent criticism from users who complained that their PCs were shutting down, even though they were still using them!
This feature allows users to specify when they are using their PC, and Windows then ‘guarantees’ that it will not restart during those times. Noice. Well, that’s the theory… in practise, some users still have problems with random restarts.
- Restarting your PC can sometimes fix temporary bugs that causes active hours to be ignored.
- Temporarily pausing Windows updates, or switching to a metered connection, can stop unwanted restarts.
- A few specific Windows Update settings, and also corrupted settings, can also cause active hour problems.
- If you still have issues, you can disable Windows Updates completely – although this isn’t recommended as a long-term solution!
How To Fix Ignored (Or Unchangeable) Active Hours Settings
Before diving into various fixes for this problem, I wanted to briefly recap how this feature should work. After launching the Windows settings/control panel, go to “Windows Update”. You can then access active hours under the advanced options section (Windows 11) or the “Change active hours” option (Windows 10):
The default option is ‘automatic’, which means that Windows tries to learn when you actively use your computer – and then it only schedules automatic restarts outside of these times. This approach clearly has a flaw though – the fact that you usually use your PC between 6-10pm doesn’t mean that you always do. You might be gaming at 10am on a weekend, and Windows decides to restart your PC because it’s outside of ‘active hours’. Grr.
To fix this, change from automatic to manual and you can specify the hours yourself:
If all works well, Windows should save your newly selected hours and Windows won’t update between those times anymore. That’s the idea, at least. In reality, people still have issues with updates. Sometimes Windows simply fails to save these new active hours, while other times Windows remembers them… but then restarts during this time anyway! Here’s how you can fix this problem once and for all.
Turn It Off And Back On Again!
If you’re trying to update the active hours and the values simply aren’t saving, it might just be a temporary blip. Restarting the PC will sometimes fix this issue, allowing you to finally change the values the second time around.
It’s frustrating that the active hours options have this bug, but it will thankfully ‘fix itself’ most of the time.
Still Can’t Update The Values? If restarting the PC doesn’t help, it’s possible that there’s some Windows system file corruption. You can run SFC or DISM commands to check this, which I explain later in this article.
Check For Windows Updates
It’s ironic, however recent Windows updates can actually cause issues with active hours (if they introduced a small software bug). So it’s often worth waiting a few days and then manually checking if there’s any pending Windows updates.
To do this, go to start -> settings -> “Windows Update” (or simply hit the windows key and search for “Windows Update”, then click the first result). Then click the button to manually check for updates. It will be worth installing any updates that say ‘Windows service update’ or ‘Cumulative Update for Windows’ because these will directly fix bugs within Windows.
Once they are installed, restart your computer and try again. With any luck, your active hours settings will start working as you’d expect.
Temporarily Pause Updates
If you’re having loads of issues with forced restarts due to Windows updates, or you simply really don’t want Windows to restart you by mistake, you can temporarily pause any updates. This can work well, especially if you are working on an essay you don’t want to lose. Unfortunately you can’t permanently pause updates this way, but you can pause for up to 5 weeks which is pretty good.
To do this, launch the main Windows Updates settings (by searching for “Windows Update” after hitting the windows key) then scroll down to the “Pause updates” option. Then choose your preferred delay time via the dropdown box:
Double Check All Windows Update Settings
If you scroll down in the Windows Update settings on Windows (or click “Advanced options” on Windows 11), you will notice a bunch of extra settings. Some of these are really worth paying attention to.
Things like “Get me up to date” sounds like a nice, simple option, but it’s… not. This particular Windows Update setting is designed to restart your PC “as soon as possible”, even “during active hours”! In other words, if you have “Get me up to date” enabled, your active hours settings will just be ignored. So be sure to disable this setting.
Equally it is worth enabling the “Notify me when a restart is required to finish updating” option. By default it is disabled, which means that you won’t easily know if Windows is planning on randomly restarting to force-install the latest updates! By enabling this option, you will get a visible warning that a forced restart is imminent.
‘Disable’ Your Internet (By Saying It’s A Metered Connection)
If you’re still struggling with random restarts courtesy of Windows Update, you could instead try stopping all updates by using a sneaky workaround. Did you see the setting “Download updates over metered connections” from earlier? By default, Windows will not download any updates when you’re connected to a pay-as-you-go (metered) internet connection. This feature is designed to stop people receiving large overage bills for their metered internet connection.
Therefore as long as that setting is disabled (which it is by default), then you can switch your internet connection to be ‘metered’ – and then Windows Update will stop downloading updates. Neat!
To do this, open the internet/network options and select “Properties” for your currently connected internet connection:
Then enable the option called “Metered connection”:
Because Windows now thinks that you are on a pay-per-GB internet plan, it will stop downloading updates. While this method works well, it should only be used on a temporary basis (because you will eventually need at least some of the Windows updates!).
Have Windows Pro? Use Group Policy
If you’re running Windows Pro (or Enterprise), you can specify active hours via the group policy editor instead. This can sometimes workaround specific bugs with a specific PC, and can be a good way of forcing active hours across a range of computers on the network. The Microsoft webpage has a good guide on how to change this via the group policy screen.
Check For Windows Corruption With SFC And DISM
It’s possible that your battles with active hours is due to Windows corruption problems. In rare cases, Windows system files can become broken (or corrupt) – causing a range of weird bugs. Luckily Windows has a few ‘hidden’ tools that can find and fix such corruption, such as SFC and DISM.
SFC stands for System File Checker and it’s designed to check for corrupted Windows system files, and then fix anything it finds. To run it, firstly open an elevated command prompt – which involves searching for “Command Prompt” then clicking “Run as administrator” to run it as a high-permission user:
Once this is opened, enter
sfc /scannow and it should run automatically in a few minutes, fixing any corruption that it finds:
You should then restart your PC and see whether active hours works more reliably for you. If you still have issues, you can also check out DISM (which stands for the snappily-named “Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool”). There are a few potential commands you can run here:
Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /CheckHealth– this performs a very quick scan to see whether the current image (Windows install) can be repaired. It does not fix/repair anything.
Dism /Online /Cleanup-Image /ScanHealth– this performs a more detailed scan to detect whether there’s any repairable corruption. It does not fix/repair anything.
DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth– this performs a time consuming repair process which will actually fix/repair the corruption.
Tip: I would run the first two commands, but only run the final
/RestoreHealth one if system corruption has clearly been found. Otherwise running
/RestoreHealth will just delay you unnecessarily.
Disable Windows Updates Completely
If you’re feeling really annoyed at Windows Updates, you could potentially disable the Windows Update service completely. This is not generally recommended because it will stop all future updates, but it could be worth knowing as a temporary measure.
To get started, click windows key + R to open the run dialog. Then enter “services.msc” and hit enter. Search for “Windows Update” in the list:
Right click this entry and click “Properties”. A new dialog box will appear for the
wuauserv (Windows update) process. Change the startup type to “Disabled” and hit “Apply” to ensure that Windows Updates won’t trigger anymore.
You might need to restart your PC for this change to take effect, but you should then stop seeing Windows update notifications and random restarts!