What does disable/enable do on a SmartThings arrival sensor?

Disabling it stops the hub from doing anything with it, for sure, according to the debug log files.

But, it doesn't just stop reporting, does it? That could save battery life if disabled in the off hours.

No, disabling only stops driver code from running on the hub (same for any driver or app; the original intent of this feature was things like hub load troubleshooting). It will not have an effect on what the device itself tries to do.

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I figured as much, thanks.

Just disabling it is a plus 'cause I had a door and gate that cycled several time overnight because, I think, of a failing battery.

I put in a rule to disable the arrival sensor in the off hours.