Résumé : One of the most consistent and most studied sleep modifications in several psychiatric conditions is the shortening of the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep latency. While its clinical usefulness is still to be proven and its meaning relatively obscure, the appearance of a short REM latency continues to be a daily fact in sleep laboratories. Many theories compete to explain what is observed, the most important being the circadian rhythm hypotheses, the homeostatic model and the reciprocal interaction model. These three are summarised and their pros and cons are exposed in a systematic manner. Points of conflict, possible convergences and limitations are discussed in the light of recent developments on the general theories of sleep regulation.