Background. Dexmedetomidine, a selective α2-adrenoreceptor agonist, has unique characteristics, such as maintained respiratory drive and production of arousable sedation. We describe development of a pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic model of the sedative properties of dexmedetomidine, taking into account the effect of stimulation on its sedative properties.Methods. In a two-period, randomized study in 18 healthy volunteers, dexmedetomidine was delivered in a step-up fashion by means of target-controlled infusion using the Dyck model. Volunteers were randomized to a session without background noise and a session with pre-recorded looped operating room background noise. Exploratory pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic modelling and covariate analysis were conducted in NONMEM using bispectral index (BIS) monitoring of processed EEG.Results. We found that both stimulation at the time of Modified Observer’s Assessment of Alertness/Sedation (MOAA/S) scale scoring and the presence or absence of ambient noise had an effect on the sedative properties of dexmedetomidine. The stimuli associated with MOAA/S scoring increased the BIS of sedated volunteers because of a transient 170% increase in the effect-site concentration necessary to reach half of the maximal effect. In contrast, volunteers deprived of ambient noise were more resistant to dexmedetomidine and required, on average, 32% higher effect-site concentrations for the same effect as subjects who were exposed to background operating room noise.Conclusions. The new pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic models might be used for effect-site rather than plasma concentration target-controlled infusion for dexmedetomidine in clinical practice, thereby allowing tighter control over the desired level of sedation.Clinical trial registration. NCT01879865.