Sleep-waking cycles are fundamental in human circadian rhythms and their disruption can have consequences for behaviour and performance. Such disturbances occur due to domestic or occupational schedules that do not permit normal sleep quotas, rapid travel across multiple meridians and extreme athletic and recreational endeavours where sleep is restricted or totally deprived. There are methodological issues in quantifying the physiological and performance consequences of alterations in the sleep-wake cycle if the effects on circadian rhythms are to be separated from the fatigue process. Individual requirements for sleep show large variations but chronic reduction in sleep can lead to immuno-suppression. There are still unanswered questions about the sleep needs of athletes, the role of 'power naps' and the potential for exercise in improving the quality of sleep.