An electroencephalogram (EEG) recorded after sleep deprivation (SDEEG) in epilepsy patients often discloses epileptiform discharges (ED) when routine EEG (REEG) does not, but since sleep alone activates ED, activation during SDEEG may result merely from the induction of sleep. We retrospectively investigated whether SDEEG is useful when REEG containing wakefulness and sleep fails to show ED. Subjects were patients with definite or highly probable epilepsy whose REEG lacked ED and who later underwent SDEEG. All had wakefulness and at least stage II sleep during both REEG and SDEEG. Patients with ED on REEG were specifically excluded to avoid including patients with activation due merely to the occurrence of sleep. Patient and EEG characteristics were studied, including duration of wakefulness and each sleep stage and timing and characteristics of ED. Fifteen of 29 patients (52%) had activation on SDEEG; exclusively during wakefulness in 1, exclusively during sleep in 6 and in both wakefulness and sleep in 8. Activation rates were not significantly different between wakefulness (9, 60%), stage I (11, 74%) and stage II (11, 74%). EEG characteristics were similar for REEG and SDEEG, except that total EEG duration and stage II sleep were longer in SDEEG than in REEG, which did not influence activation by a logistic regression model (p > 0.05). We conclude that sleep deprivation activates ED independent of the activating effects of sleep and therefore is useful in evaluation of suspected epilepsy even when REEG contains sleep.