Our objective was to assess the effects of nortriptyline on electroencephalographic sleep and subjective sleep quality in spousally bereaved, depressed elders. Ten elderly volunteers with bereavement-related major depression had electroencephalographic sleep studies while depressed, after remission of depressive symptoms while still taking nortriptyline, and after nortriptyline discontinuation. Changes in sleep measures over time were compared both within bereaved subjects and with age- and sex-matched healthy controls. Remission of depressive symptoms while still on nortriptyline was associated with improvements in sleep quality (P < .002), rapid eye movement (REM) percent (P < .02), REM latency (P < .05), REM density (P < .05), and delta sleep ratio (P < .05). After discontinuation of nortriptyline, REM percent, REM latency, and delta ratio reverted to pretreatment levels, while sleep efficiency and sleep quality continued to show improvement coincident with sustained clinical remission. These data suggest that nortriptyline may be clinically useful in treating the sleep disturbance of elders with bereavement-related depression and that a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial is warranted.