Benzodiazepine hypnotics increase NREM sleep and alter its EEG by reducing delta (0.3-3 Hz) and increasing sigma (12-15 Hz) and beta (15-23 Hz) activity. We tested whether the nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic, zolpidem (10 mg), produced the same pattern of sleep and EEG changes as two "classical" benzodiazepines, triazolam (0.25 mg) and temazepam (30 mg). Sleep EEG of 16 subjects was analyzed with period amplitude analysis for 3 nights during drug administration or placebo. The effects of zolpidem were in the same direction but generally of smaller magnitude than those of the classical benzodiazepines. These differences are more likely the result of non-equivalent dosages than different pharmacologic actions. Period amplitude analysis showed that the decreased delta activity resulted mainly from a decrease in wave amplitude. In contrast, the increased sigma and beta activity were produced by increased wave incidence. Delta suppression increased with repeated drug administration but sigma and beta stimulation did not. While these findings have little relevance for the clinical choice of hypnotics they may hold important implications for the brain mechanisms involved in hypnotic tolerance and withdrawal delirium.