In this study, we have sought to establish whether N2O and ketamine alter the bispectral index during propofol–fentanyl anaesthesia. Fourteen surgical patients were randomly assigned to one of two groups: the N2O group (n=7) and the ketamine group (n=7). In both groups, anaesthesia was induced with propofol 1.5–2 mg kg−1 and fentanyl 2 μg kg−1 and maintained with propofol 5–7 mg kg−1 hr−1 to target the bispectral index between 40 and 50. After the bispectral index value had stabilized the propofol infusion rate was fixed. In the N2O group, the following concentrations of N2O were subsequently inhaled at 20-min intervals; 20, 40, 60 and 70%, and then N2O was terminated. In the ketamine group, ketamine (0.4 mg kg−1+1.0 mg kg−1h−1) was given. The bispectral index and 95% spectral edge frequency were recorded 20 min after each change in concentration of N2O or ketamine infusion. The bispectral index and 95% spectral edge frequency did not change significantly in the N2O group, but increased significantly from 44.1±0.7 and 16.0±0.5 to 58.6±1.4 and 19.5±0.3 (P <0.01), respectively, in the ketamine group. Additional N2O or ketamine did not decrease the bispectral index and 95% spectral edge frequency values. The depth of sedation should be assessed carefully using a bispectral index monitor when these anaesthetic agents are used together.