Sleep deprivation has profound effects on cognitive performance, and some of these effects may be mediated by impaired prefrontal cortex function. In search of an animal model to investigate this relationship we studied the influence of restricted sleep on operant conditioning in rats, particularly the performance in a differential reinforcement of low rate responding (DRL) task, which is highly dependent upon an intact prefrontal cortex. Animals were trained to withhold a lever press until an imposed delay of 30 s after the last press had passed in order to achieve a food reward. Once the animals had mastered the task, they were sleeprestricted for 7 days with 20 h of sleep deprivation per day. At the end of each daily sleep deprivation session, performance on the DRL task was assessed. The results show that sleep-restricted animals were less able to time their responses correctly, started pressing the lever more randomly and showed signs of behavioural disinhibition, the latter possibly reflecting enhanced impulsivity. Our data support the hypothesis that a sleep debt has disruptive consequences for the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This model offers possibilities for future studies investigating the underlying biochemical and molecular mechanisms of this relationship.