Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a promising new treatment for patients with major depression. However, the mechanisms underlying the antidepressive action of rTMS are widely unclear. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep has been shown to play an important role in the pathophysiology of depression. In the present study we demonstrate that rTMS delays the first REM sleep epoch on average by 17 min (102.6 +/-22.5 min vs 85.7+/-18.8 min; p < 0.02) and prolongs the nonREM-REM cycle length (109.1+/-11.4 min vs 101.8+/-13.2min, p< 0.012). These rTMS-induced changes in REM sleep variables correspond to findings observed after pharmacological and electroconvulsive treatment of depression. Therefore, it is likely that the capability of rTMS to affect circadian and ultradian biological rhythms contributes to its antidepressive action.