A sample of 1070 people aged 65 and over living in the Liverpool community was interviewed in 1982/3. Those traced were then reinterviewed 3 years later. Information was collected on the prevalence of perceived insomnia using a community version of the Geriatric Mental State (GMS), which also provided a diagnosis using AGECAT. Thirty-five per cent reported trouble sleeping, which was twice as common in women as men and was not wholly accounted for by the increased prevalence of mental illness in elderly women. There was no change in prevalence with age, but insomnia was more frequent in the depressed group (70%). Insomnia is more likely with increasing serverity of depression but was also common in the well group and hence is not a specific indicator. No relationship was found between mortality at year 3 and insomnia or hypnotic use at year 0. Use of hypnotics was related to the presence of sleep disturbance, but not to having a psychiatric diagnosis. Medical intervention may be much more successful in reducing the prevalence of benzodiazepine usage than may have been realized.