Sleep disturbance is a common complaint in alcoholics. When polysomnographic studies are performed in alcoholics, reductions in slow wave sleep are a common finding; however, few studies have evaluated the effects of chronic alcohol exposure on sleep in animal models. In the present study, the sleep EEG was evaluated in 40 Wistar rats who were exposed to chronic alcohol or control conditions in vapor chambers. Rats were exposed to ethanol vapors or control chambers for 6 weeks and then withdrawn. Sleep EEG was recorded before exposure (baseline), immediately following exposure, and 5 weeks after withdrawal from the ethanol/control chambers. In the ethanol-exposed animals, blood ethanol levels averaged 192 mg/dL over 6 weeks of exposure. Chronic ethanol exposure and withdrawal was not found to affect either slow wave sleep latency or slow wave sleep duration; however, overall spectral power as well as power in the delta, theta, and beta frequencies were significantly reduced following chronic exposure (2-4 Hz, [F(1, 17) = 18.11, p = 0.001], 4-6 Hz, [F(1, 17) = 15.98, p = 0.001], 6-8 Hz [F(1, 17) = 15.52, p = 0.001], 8-16 Hz band [F(1, 17) = 18.73, p < 0.0001], 16-32 Hz [F(1, 17) = 10.13, p = 0.005], and 1-50 Hz [F(1, 17) = 17.03, p = 0.001]. After 5 weeks of withdrawal, significant decreases still persisted in the delta and theta frequencies (2-4 Hz [F(1, 16) = 6.21, 0.024], 4-6 Hz [F(1, 16) = 6.26, 0.024], and 6-8 Hz [F(1, 16) = 4.84, p = 0.043]). These findings suggest that spectral analysis of the EEG is a highly sensitive measure of the effects of ethanol on sleep. These findings additionally demonstrate that chronic ethanol exposure can produce persistent diminution in the systems that generate cortical slow waves in the rat and thus may provide a model for understanding the mechanisms underlying sleep disturbances associated with alcoholism.