Disturbances of sleep are typical for most depressed patients and belong to the core symptoms of the disorder. Polysomnographic sleep research has demonstrated that besides disturbances of sleep continuity, in depression sleep is characterized by a reduction of slow wave sleep and a disinhibition of REM sleep, with a shortening of REM latency, a prolongation of the first REM period and increased REM density. These findings have stimulated many sleep studies in depressive patients and patients with other psychiatric disorders. In the meantime, several theoretical models, originating from basic research, have been developed to explain sleep abnormalities of depression, like the two-process-model of sleep and sleep regulation, the GRF/CRF imbalance model and the reciprocal interaction model of non-REM and REM sleep regulation. Interestingly, most of the effective antidepressant agents suppress REM sleep. Furthermore, manipulations of the sleep-wake cycle, like sleep deprivation or a phase advance of the sleep period, alleviate depressive symptoms. These data indicate a strong bi-directional relationship between sleep, sleep alterations and depression.