The decrease in genioglossus (GG) muscle activity during sleep, especially rapid eye movement (REM) or paradoxical sleep, can lead to airway occlusion and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). The hypoglossal nucleus innervating the GG muscle is under the control of serotonergic, noradrenergic and histaminergic neurons that cease firing during paradoxical sleep. The objectives of this study were to determine the effect on GG muscle activity during different wake–sleep states of the microdialysis application of serotonin, histamine (HA) or noradrenaline (NE) to the hypoglossal nucleus in freely moving cats. Six adult cats were implanted with electroencephalogram, electro-oculogram and neck electromyogram electrodes to record wake–sleep states and with GG muscle and diaphragm electrodes to record respiratory muscle activity. Microdialysis probes were inserted into the hypoglossal nucleus for monoamine application. Changes in GG muscle activity were assessed by power spectrum analysis. In the baseline conditions, tonic GG muscle activity decreased progressively and significantly from wakefulness to slow-wave sleep and even further during slow-wave sleep with ponto-geniculo-occipital waves and paradoxical sleep. Application of serotonin or HA significantly increased GG muscle activity during the wake–sleep states when compared with controls. By contrast, NE had no excitatory effect. Our results indicate that both serotonin and HA have a potent excitatory action on GG muscle activity, suggesting multiple aminergic control of upper airway muscle activity during the wake–sleep cycle. These data might help in the development of pharmacological approaches for the treatment of OSA.