The objective of the present study was to evaluate the relationship between the sleep–wake behaviour and neurological impairments among mentally retarded people. The sleep–wake behaviour of 293 mentally retarded subjects living in a rehabilitation center was studied by a standardized observation protocol carried out by trained staff members. The protocol consisted of brief check-ups of the subjects’ sleep–wake status at 20-min intervals for five randomly chosen 24-h periods during 4 months. From the raw data five sleep–wake behaviour variables were formed. The data concerning the subject characteristics (age, body mass index (BMI), gender, degree of mental retardation, presence of locomotor disability, that of epilepsy, blindness or deafness and the usage of psychotropic medications) were collected from the medical records. Two main findings emerged: (1) severe locomotor disablity, blindness and active epilepsy were found to be independent predictors of increased daytime sleep and increased number of wake–sleep transitions and (2) the subjects with a combination of two or all three of these impairments had a significantly more fragmented and abnormally distributed sleep than those with none or milder forms of these impairments. Age, BMI, degree of mental retardation and the studied medications played a minor role in the sleep disturbances of the study population. Finally, deafness was not found to be associated with any of the measured sleep–wake variables.