Polysomnography is used increasingly to investigate patients with possible sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome (SAHS), but it has not been assessed critically. We thus examined prospectively the value of electrophysiological and respiratory monitoring in 200 consecutive adults (163 men, 37 women; mean [SD] age 50  years) having polysomnography. At polysomnography, 91 patients had SAHS (greater than 15 apnoeas + hypopnoeas [A + H] per h asleep) and 11 had periodic limb-movement disorder. Recording sleep electrophysiologically was of no diagnostic value and SAHS could be as accurately defined by A + H per time in bed as by A + H per time asleep. 66% of patients with SAHS could be diagnosed with oximetry alone, but many of the undiagnosed patients had moderately severe SAHS and benefited from treatment. Neurophysiological sleep recording is unnecessary and oximetry alone is of limited value in the overnight investigation of patients suspected of having SAHS.