Nitric oxide (NO) is a biological messenger synthesized by three main isoforms of NO synthase (NOS): neuronal (nNOS, constitutive calcium dependent), endothelial (eNOS, constitutive, calcium dependent) and inducible (iNOS, calcium independent). NOS is distributed in the brain either in circumscribed neuronal sets or in sparse interneurons. Within the laterodorsal tegmentum (LDT), pedunculopontine tegmentum and dorsal raphe nucleus, NOS-containing neurons overlap neurons grouped according to their contribution to sleep mechanisms. The main target for NO is the soluble guanylate cyclase that triggers an overproduction of cyclic guanosine monophosphate. NO in neurons of the pontine tegmentum facilitates sleep (particularly rapid-eye-movement sleep), and NO contained within the LDT intervenes in modulating the discharge of the neurons through an auto-inhibitory process involving the co-synthesized neurotransmitters. Moreover, NO synthesized within cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain, while under control of the LDT, may modulate the spectral components of the EEG instead of the amounts of different sleep states. Finally, impairment of NO production (e.g. neurodegeneration, iNOS induction) has identifiable effects, including ageing, neuropathologies and parasitaemia.