Changes in the functional organization of the brain during the course of sleep and waking are reflected by different patterns of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF). To investigate the effect of the hypnotic zolpidem, a benzodiazepine receptor agonist, drug or placebo were administered to eight young, healthy men prior to bedtime. The subjects were sleep-deprived to promote sleep during the 4-h recording period in the positron emission tomography scanner. Intravenous injections of labelled water were administered during pre-drug wakefulness, and during Stage 2, Stage 4 and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, each injection being followed by an emission scan. Statistical parametric mapping was used to investigate the effects of treatment and sleep states. During sleep (combined Stages 2 and 4, and REM sleep) relative rCBF was lower after zolpidem than after placebo in the basal ganglia and insula, and higher in the parietal cortex. A 'multiple study' analysis of REM sleep revealed that rCBF in the anterior cingulum was lower after zolpidem than after placebo, whereas rCBF in the occipital and parietal cortex, parahippocampal gyrus and cerebellum was higher. When the pooled data (drug and placebo) of Stages 2 and 4 were compared with wakefulness, rCBF was lower in prefrontal cortex and insula, and higher in the occipital and parietal cortex. The results indicate that some differences in rCBF from wakefulness to non-REM sleep are further augmented by zolpidem.