The goal of the study was to investigate the contribution of the delta and theta responses to the peaks on the event-related potential waveform and specifically to find the possible cognitive correlates of these oscillatory responses in rapid eye movements (REM) sleep and Stage 2 (spindle sleep), Stage 3 (light sleep) and Stage 4 (deep sleep; slow wave sleep) of non-REM sleep. Data on overnight sleep was acquired from 12 healthy, young adult, volunteer males; those on awake stage were obtained from 19 matched males. Brain activity was obtained in response to auditory stimuli (2000 Hz deviant and 1000 Hz standard stimuli: 65 dB, 10 ms r/f time, 50 ms duration) under passive oddball paradigm in sleep, active and passive oddball (OB-a, OB-p, respectively) paradigms in wakefulness. The effect of the experimental variables (stimulus type, sleep stage) was studied using 2 x 4 analysis of variance for repeated measures and stepwise multiple regression analysis. Overall, three types of configurations were obtained for the oscillatory responses which varied according to sleep stage and stimulus type: Large amplitude, differentiated delta and distinct theta response of long duration; distinct theta response with short duration; distinct delta response. As in wakefulness, the morphology of the time-domain peaks was found to be due to the superposition of the delta and theta responses. The configuration in REM resembled the responses to the OB-p paradigm and that NREM stages resembled the responses to the OB-a paradigm in wakefulness. Auditory information processing selectively varied according to sleep stages and took longer in sleep. Comparable peaks were obtained at longer latencies and later components appeared that did not exist under wakefulness. With respect to the long-duration theta activity, and greater differentiation between the deviant- and standard-elicited stimuli, Stage 2 appeared to represent the more effortful cognitive processing. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.