Benzodiazepines are widely used in the elderly population for the initiation of sleep. However, very frequently, complaints about poor sleep maintenance persist despite benzodiazepine treatment. Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland at night, is involved in the regulation of the sleep/wake cycle. Melatonin production decreases with age and can also be inhibited by benzodiazepines. We have recently reported on the association between insomnia and impaired melatonin output in the elderly. In the present study we have investigated the efficacy of melatonin replacement therapy in improving sleep in 21 elderly subjects who have been taking benzodiazepines and had low melatonin output. In a randomized, double-blind, crossover designed study the subjects were treated for three weeks with 2 mg per night of controlled-release melatonin and for 3 weeks with placebo, 2 h before desired bedtime with a 1-week washout period between treatment periods. Subjects' sleep was assessed by wrist actigraphy. Melatonin treatment significantly increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time and decreased wake after sleep onset, sleep latency, number of awakenings and fragmental index, as compared to placebo. The results of our study indicate that melatonin replacement therapy can improve sleep quality in the elderly and that the beneficial effects are augmented in the presence of benzodiazepines.