The sleep EEGs of 9 young adult males (age 20-28 years) and 8 middle-aged males (42-56 years) were analyzed by visual scoring and spectral analysis. In the middle-aged subjects power density in the delta, theta and sigma frequencies were attenuated as compared to the young subjects. In both age groups power density in the delta and theta frequencies declined from NREM period 1 to 3. In the sigma frequencies, however, no systematic changes in power density were observed over the sleep episode. In both age groups the decay of EEG power (0.75-7.0 Hz) over successive NREM-REM cycles and the time course of EEG power during NREM sleep was analyzed. The decay rate of both EEG power density over successive NREM-REM cycles and EEG power density during NREM sleep was smaller in the middle-aged subjects than in the young subjects. It is concluded that the age-related differences in human sleep EEG power spectra are not identical to the changes in EEG power spectra observed in the course of the sleep episode. Therefore age-related differences in EEG power spectra cannot be completely explained by assuming a reduced need for sleep in older subjects. The smaller decay rate of EEG power during NREM sleep in the middle-aged subjects is interpreted as a reduced sleep efficiency. The results are discussed in the frame work of the two-process model of sleep regulation.