To identify patterns of motility in the rectum of humans during the day while awake and at night during sleep, and to correlate the patterns with interdigestive duodenal motor complexes and sleep cycles, intraluminal rectal pressure was recorded in 12 healthy subjects (five female, seven male; mean age, 28 years) using a flexible, noncompliant, silastic catheter and an Arndorfer system with a single perfused rectal port 6 cm above the anorectal junction, duodenal motility was recorded via a perfused oroduodenal tube, and sleep stages were determined electroencephalographically. Discrete bursts of rectal motor waves, called rectal motor complexes (RMCs), were identified on 72 occasions in 11 of the 12 subjects during 157 hours of recording. The RMCs were found in daytime during fasting or after feeding (0.2 ± 0.1 RMCs/hour), but were more easily and frequently identified at night during sleep (0.8 RMCs/hour, p < .01). The complexes had a distinct onset, a mean duration ± SEM of 9.5 ± 1.0 minutes, and a distinct decline. Within each complex, the waves had a mean frequency of 3.8 ± 0.3 per minute and a mean amplitude of 19 ± 2.7 mm Hg. Complex-to-complex intervals at night averaged 74 ± 15 minutes. No clear-cut temporal association was present between the complexes and phase III of interdigestive duodenal motor complex or the REM stage of sleep.