The purpose of this study was to define the temporal relationship between anterior pituitary hormone profiles and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep occurrence. Plasma levels of prolactin (PRL), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), luteotropin (LH), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and growth hormone (GH) were measured in 10 min blood samples. Analysis of the nocturnal profiles for these hormones and the concomitant patterns of sleep stage distribution indicate that the onset of REM sleep very seldom occurred during the increasing phase of secretory episodes. In 93-98% of cases, depending on the hormone studied, it occurred either during the declining phase, at peak level, or at nadir, each of these phases reflecting a decrease in glandular activity. This relationship differed from the very close association previously found between the sleep stage alternation and plasma renin activity. These findings seem to fit in with the concept of reduced sympathetic activity and disruption of the vegetative functions during REM sleep.