Brief arousals are clinically important and increasingly scored during polysomnography. However, the frequency of arousals during routine polysomnography in the normal population is unknown. We performed overnight polysomnography in the 55 of 59 control subjects from a family practice list who were approached and agreed to undergo polysomnography. Awakenings were scored according to the criteria of Rechtschaffen and Kales and briefer arousals according to three different criteria, including the American Sleep Disorders Association (ASDA) definition. There was a mean of 4 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1-15) Rechtschaffen and Kales awakenings per hour, whereas the ASDA definition gave 21 (95% CI, 7-56) per hour slept. Arousal frequencies increased significantly (p < 0.001) with age in our subjects, who ranged from the late teens to early 70s. The high upper limit of the frequency of brief arousals was not altered by exclusion of patients who snored or had witnessed apneas or daytime sleepiness. It is important that those scoring arousals on routine polysomnography recognize that high arousal frequencies occur in the normal population on 1-night polysomnography.