We have compared bispectral index (BIS), 95% spectral edge frequency (SEF) and approximate entropy (ApEn) in 37 patients during induction and recovery from a short general anaesthetic. Heart rate variability (HRV) was also compared during induction only. These indices were noted at the start of induction, when a syringe held between the thumb and fingertips was dropped, at insertion of a laryngeal mask or tracheal tube (tube insertion), at incision, at the end of surgery, on return of the gag reflex and when the patient could follow a verbal command. When indices at the start of induction were compared with those at tube insertion, all four decreased significantly. BIS decreased from a mean of 95.38 (SEM 1.02) to 44.22 (1.05), mean SEF from 20.91 (1.19) to 14.14 (0.70) Hz, mean HRV from 37.1 (7.75) to 17.9 (3.6) bpm2 and ApEn from 0.90 (0.06) to 0.65 (0.04). Using logistic regression, the indices were compared both individually and in combination as to the power of distinguishing awake (at pre-induction) from asleep (at tube insertion) states. BIS had the best predictive power, with a sensitivity of 97.3%, specificity 94.4%, positive predictive value 94.7% and negative predictive value 97.1%. A combination of the indices conferred no additional predictive advantage.