Aging is accompanied by a continuous decline in slow wave sleep (SWS) and in growth hormone (GH) secretion, particularly during the sleeping period. Because short-term pulsatile administration of cortisol increases GH release and SWS in young adults, we wondered whether similar effects can be induced also in elderly men. Hourly injections of cortisol between 1700 and 600 h increased stage 2 and SWS and decreased rapid eye movement sleep. Spectral analysis revealed significant increases in delta and theta power. Cortisol infusions increased the GH secretion prior to sleep onset, but remained largely unchanged during sleep. Thus, sleep EEG and GH release are modulated by cortisol administration in a manner similar to that in young subjects, but to a lesser extent. The stimulatory effect of cortisol on both GH release and SWS points to a mechanism involving glucocorticoid-enhanced production and release of GH-releasing hormone that activates pituitary GH release and simultaneously antagonizes the effects of corticotropin-releasing hormone and somatostatin.