Sleep was studied by continuous 24-h recordings in adult male Syrian hamsters, chronically implanted with EEG and EMG electrodes. Three vigilance states were determined using visual scoring and EEG power spectra (0.25-25 Hz) computed for 4-s episodes. The effects of two methods of total sleep deprivation (SD) were examined on vigilance states and the EEG power spectrum. The animals were subjected to 24 h SD by: (1) forced locomotion in a slowly rotating drum, (2) gentle handling whenever the hamsters attempted a sleeping posture. In addition, the hamsters were subjected to SD by handling during the first 3 h of the L period. Sleep predominated in the L period (78.2% of 12 h) and the D period (51.2%). The power spectra of the 3 vigilance states were similar during the L and D period. In NREM sleep, power density values in the low frequency range (0.25-6.0 Hz) exceeded those of REM sleep and W by a maximum factor of 8.3 and 2.8, respectively. At frequencies above 16 Hz, NREM and REM sleep power density values were significantly lower than during W. A progressive decrease in power density for low EEG frequencies (0.25-7 Hz) during NREM sleep was seen in the course of the L period. Power density values of higher frequencies (8-25 Hz) increased at the end of the L period and remained high during the first hours of the D period. The effect of prolonged SD on vigilance states and EEG spectra was similar by both methods and strikingly small compared to similar results in rats. In contrast, 3 h SD induced a large and more prolonged effect. The similarities and differences of sleep and sleep regulation are summarized for the hamster, rat and man.