The steroid pregnenolone (P) and its sulfate (PS) can accumulate in the central nervous system independent of peripheral sources. Pharmacologically, the sulphated form of P interacts with the GABAA receptor complex, and functional assays show that this steroid behaves as an allosteric GABAA receptor antagonist. The present study explored the effect of a single dose of P upon the sleep-EEG and concurrent secretion of growth hormone and cortisol in male volunteers. P increased the amount of time spent in slow wave sleep and depressed EEG sigma power. Sleep-associated nocturnal cortisol and growth hormone secretion remained unchanged, ruling out the possibility that P exerted its effect via altered regulation of these hormones. Furthermore, results from in vitro studies on the potency of P to activate gene transcription via corticosteroid receptors made a genomic action of P via hormone receptor-sensitive DNA sequences unlikely. We conclude that P acts in a non-genomic fashion at or in the vicinity of the benzodiazepine binding site, modulating allosterically the GABAA receptor like a partial inverse.