Over the last several decades the idea that adenosine (Ado) plays a role in sleep control was postulated due in large part to pharmacological studies that showed the ability of Ado agonists to induce sleep and Ado antagonists to decrease sleep. A second wave of research involving in vitro cellular analytic approaches and subsequently, the use of neurochemical tools such as microdialysis, identified a population of cells within the brainstem and basal forebrain arousal centers, with activity that is both tightly coupled to thalamocortical activation and under tonic inhibitory control by Ado. Most recently, genetic tools have been used to show that Ado receptors regulate a key aspect of sleep, the slow wave activity expressed during slow wave sleep. This review will briefly introduce some of the phenomenology of sleep and then summarize the effect of Ado levels on sleep, the effect of sleep on Ado levels, and recent experiments using mutant mouse models to characterize the role for Ado in sleep control and end with a discussion of which Ado receptors are involved in such control. When taken together, these various experiments suggest that while Ado does play a role in sleep control, it is a specific role with specific functional implications and it is one of many neurotransmitters and neuromodulators affecting the complex behavior of sleep. Finally, since the majority of adenosine-related experiments in the sleep field have focused on SWS, this review will focus largely on SWS; however, the role of adenosine in REM sleep behavior will be addressed.