Sleep was analysed in 8 young adults subjects during two baseline nights and two recovery nights following 40.5 h sleep deprivation. Sleep stages were scored from the polygraph records according to conventional criteria. In addition, the EEG records of the entire nights were subjected to spectral analysis to compute the frequency distribution of the power density in the 0.25-25 Hz range for 0.5 Hz or 1.0 Hz bins. In the first recovery night, the power density in the delta band was significantly higher than baseline for total sleep time as well as for sleep stages 2, 3 and 4, 4 and REM. These changes were not restricted to the delta band, but extended to higher frequency bands. Minor, but significant, effects of sleep deprivation were seen in the power density distribution of the second recovery night. In the baseline nights, a progressive reduction of power density in the delta/theta range was present for successive non-REM-REM sleep cycles for total sleep time and stages 2, 3 and 4, and 4. The results show that effects of sleep deprivation as well as trends within the sleep periods are readily apparent from spectral analysis, but are inadequately reflected by conventional sleep scoring. When the power density values were integrated over the entire frequency range (0.75-25 Hz) for each non-REM-REM sleep cycle, an exponential decline from cycle 1 to cycle 3 was suggested. The present findings support the hypothesis that the EEG power density in the low frequency range is an indicator of a progressively declining process during sleep whose initial value is determined by the duration of prior waking.