Differences in sleeping metabolic rate (SMR) among subjects may be related to different levels of energy expenditure associated with sleep stages. The relationship between energy expenditure and sleep stages was investigated overnight in 29 subjects (14 Caucasians and 15 Pima Indians, 18 males and 11 females; mean +/- SD, 31 +/- 7 yr, 83 +/- 26 kg, 27 +/- 11% fat). Sleep stages were determined by electroencephalogram recording, whereas energy expenditure was measured in a 1,000-liter Plexiglas sleep box constructed around a bed as a fast-response open-circuit indirect calorimeter. Eighty-five percent of the interindividual variability in SMR was explained by differences in fat-free mass, fat mass, age, sex, and race (r2 = 0.85). The intra-individual variance in SMR over time was related to sleep stages and to clock time. Within subjects, SMR in stage 3 was significantly lower than in stage 2 (-39 +/- 18 kcal/day; P < 0.05) and rapid eye movement sleep (-51 +/- 23 kcal/day; P < 0.05). Also, sleep stages were associated with different respiratory quotients. Because sleep stages are associated with only small differences in energy metabolism, our results suggest that sleep stages play a minor role in the variance of SMR among subjects. However, the duration of sleep may contribute to the variability of 24-h energy expenditure.