This study examined the effect of 30 h of sleep deprivation and intermittent physical exercise, on both cognitive and psychomotor function as well subjective ratings of mood. Six subjects with the following physical characteristics participated in the study (Mean +/- S.D.): age 22 +/- 0.3 years, height 180 +/- 5 cm, body mass: 77 +/- 5 kg, VO2peak 44 +/- 5 ml kg(-1) min(-1). Three subjects engaged in normal sedentary activities while three others cycled on a cycle ergometer at 50% VO2peak for 20 min out of every 2 h during 30 h of sleep deprivation. One week later sleep deprivation was repeated with a cross over of subjects. Every 4 h, subjects completed simple and two-choice reaction time tasks at both rest and during exercise, a computerized tracking task, a number cancellation task, and an assessment of subjective mood state as measured by the POMS questionnaire. A 3 x 4 repeated measures ANOVA revealed that resting but not exercising reaction times were significantly slower with sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation was also associated with significantly greater negative disturbances to subjective vigour, fatigue and depression assessed by the Profile of Mood States questionnaire. Compared to those who have been deprived of sleep alone, individuals that performed 5 h of intermittent moderate exercise during 30 h of sleep deprivation appeared to be more vulnerable to negative mood disturbances and impairment in reaction times. This could result in greater risk of accident due to a reduced capacity to respond quickly.