Background and purpose: The aim of this study was to define quantitatively the spectrum content of the sleep pattern termed 'cyclic alternating pattern' (CAP) A phases, their scalp topography and their probable cortical generators, by using data from sleep polygraphic recordings that included a large number of scalp EEG channels. Patients and methods: Polysomnographic recording that include 19 EEG channels were obtained from 5 normal healthy young controls. After sleep staging, for each subject, 5 different CAP A phase subtype epochs were selected, which served for subsequent analysis. Following the analysis of power spectra calculated on the C4 channel by means of the fast Fourier transform, two different frequency bands were detected: 0.25-2.5 and 7-12 Hz, representing the frequency peak in the profiles of the different CAP subtypes. All the subsequent analyses were performed on these two bands. Scalp topographic color mapping was carried out using the data from all the 19 EEG channels recorded, and by means of the 4-nearest neighbor algorithm. Individual average maps were obtained for both frequency bands. Finally, we used the low resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (LORETA) functional imaging for the source analysis of the two EEG frequency components of CAP A phases. Results: The quantitative spectral analysis of the different A phase subtypes shows the existence of two distinct spectral components characterizing CAP subtypes A1 (0.25-2.5 Hz) and A3 (7-12 Hz). These two components coexist in CAP A2 subtypes. The topography of these two components shows a clear prevalence over the anterior frontal regions for the 0.25-2.5 Hz band and over the parietal-occipital areas for the 7-12 Hz band. Finally, the generators of the low-frequency component of CAP seemed to be localized mostly over the frontal midline cortex; on the contrary, those of the high-frequency band involved both midline and hemispheric areas within the parietal and occipital areas. Conclusions: The results of this study confirm the presence of two fundamentally distinct frequency bands which are expressed individually (A1 and A3) or in association (A2) in the different CAP A phase subtypes. The analysis of scalp distribution maps indicates that the two frequency components recognized are distributed over clearly different areas of the scalp. Moreover, the LORETA analysis indicates that also the probable cortical generators of these two frequency bands are different and well separated and distinct.