Paradoxical sleep in the rat, cat and mouse is preceded and sometimes followed by a short-lasting intermediate stage characterized by high-amplitude anterior cortex spindles and low-frequency hippocampal theta rhythm. Several neurophysiological arguments suggest that the intermediate stage corresponds to a brief functional disconnection of the forebrain from the brainstem. This paper is devoted to the review of quantitative and qualitative influences of three generations of hypnotics on the intermediate stage–paradoxical sleep couple. Barbiturates, first-generation hypnotics, extend the intermediate stage at the expense of paradoxical sleep. Three benzodiazepines are compared, two with a short half-life (triazolam and midazolam) and one with a long half-life (diazepam). They also decrease sleep occurrence latency and increase the intermediate stage at the expense of paradoxical sleep, except for midazolam, which increases both the intermediate stage and paradoxical sleep at low dose. Zolpidem and zopiclone, hypnotics of third generation, decrease paradoxical sleep but the intermediate stage never substitutes for paradoxical sleep. The results are discussed in relationship to the functional aspects of this turning-point period of sleep.