Seed dormancy is an important component of plant fitness that causes a delay of germination until the arrival of a favourable growth season. Dormancy is a complex trait that is determined by genetic factors with a substantial environmental influence. Several of the tissues comprising a seed contribute to its final dormancy level. The roles of the plant hormones abscisic acid and gibberellin in the regulation of dormancy and germination have long been recognized. The last decade saw the identification of several additional factors that influence dormancy including dormancy-specific genes, chromatin factors and non-enzymatic processes. This review gives an overview of our present understanding of the mechanisms that control seed dormancy at the molecular level, with an emphasis on new insights. The various regulators that are involved in the induction and release of dormancy, the influence of environmental factors and the conservation of seed dormancy mechanisms between plant species are discussed. Finally, expected future directions in seed dormancy research are considered.