This study investigated whether paradoxical, or rapid eye movement (REM), sleep deprivation (SD) affected spatial memory. SD was induced in male Wistar rats by housing them on small platforms over water. They fell into the water if they lost muscle tone. Controls were either housed in tanks with large platforms (TC) or in normal cages (CC). All rats had free access to food and water. Each day they were tested in a place-learning set task using a Morris water maze. The rats were released from 6 different starting points (sets) and allowed 2 min to find a submerged platform. Two trials were conducted from each starting point. SD caused a significant decrement in performance in Trial 1 from Day 2. By Day 4, when distance swum to find the platform was plotted against set, area under the curve was doubled in SD compared to that in TC and CC rats, indicating a significant impairment in reference spatial memory. There was no consistent effect on working memory, indicated by Trial 2. SD caused weight loss and increased serum corticosterone compared to that in CC rats. There were no differences in concentrations of hypothalamic, hippocampal, or cortical catecholamines or their metabolites. Serotonin metabolism was elevated in the hypothalamus and hippocampus in SD rats. These results indicate that SD induced in rats housed on small platforms causes a substantial impairment of reference memory. The memory deficit may not be specific to SD because the rats are physically stressed and lose some nonREM sleep when housed in these conditions.