BACKGROUND: During the last decade most hospitals in Norway have introduced breastfeeding according to the baby's needs during night-time as well. The aim of this study was to examine whether women had sufficient sleep and rest in the maternity unit, and the factors influencing insufficient sleep and rest. The degree of satisfaction with the stay in the maternity unit and factors associated with satisfaction were also studied. MATERIAL AND METHODS: From April to November 1998, 160 postnatal women in two Norwegian communities were included in a questionnaire-based study, representing 89% of all women eligible for the study. RESULTS: 47% (75/160) of the women reported lack of sleep and rest in the maternity unit. The factor most strongly associated with lack of sleep and rest was not having a single room (adjusted odds ratio 11.0; 95% confidence interval: 1.7-69.1). 56% (88/158) of the women reported to be very satisfied, 39% (68/158) were moderately satisfied, and 5% (8/158) dissatisfied with the stay at the maternity unit. Not being very satisfied was associated with the hospital of delivery (adjusted OR 18.0; 95% CI: 2.2-149.1), and with insufficient sleep and rest (OR 3.3: 1.3-8.1). INTERPRETATION: Our results suggest that women do not get sufficient sleep and rest under existing circumstances in maternity units.