BACKGROUND: Changes in photoperiod and ambient temperature trigger seasonal adaptations in the physiology and behaviour of many species, including the Djungarian hamster. Exposure of the hamsters to a short photoperiod and low ambient temperature leads to a reduction of the polyphasic distribution of sleep and waking over the light and dark period. In contrast, a long photoperiod enhances the daily sleep-wake amplitude leading to a decline of slow-wave activity in NREM sleep within the light period. It is unknown whether these changes can be attributed specifically to photoperiod and/or ambient temperature, or whether endogenous components are contributing factors. The influence of endogenous factors was investigated by recording sleep in Djungarian hamsters invariably maintained at a low ambient temperature and fully adapted to a short photoperiod. The second recording was performed when they had returned to summer physiology, despite the maintenance of the 'winter' conditions. RESULTS: Clear winter-summer differences were seen in sleep distribution, while total sleep time was unchanged. A significantly higher light-dark cycle modulation in NREM sleep, REM sleep and waking was observed in hamsters in the summer physiological state compared to those in the winter state. Moreover, only in summer, REM sleep episodes were longer and waking bouts were shorter during the light period compared to the dark period. EEG power in the slow-wave range (0.75-4.0 Hz) in both NREM sleep and REM sleep was higher in animals in the summer physiological state than in those in the 'winter' state. In winter SWA in NREM sleep was evenly distributed over the 24 h, while in summer it decreased during the light period and increased during the dark period. CONCLUSION: Endogenous changes in the organism underlie the differences in sleep-wake redistribution we have observed previously in hamsters recorded in a short and long photoperiod.