Sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) encompasses a group of disorders that include obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), central sleep apnoea (CSA) and nocturnal hypoventilation. SDB commonly coexists with sleep disorders such as insomnia and restless legs syndrome, and sleep deprivation has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of SDB. Participants of a workshop, held at the 6th annual meeting of The International Sleep Disorders Forum: The Art of Good Sleep in 2008, evaluated whether the effective management of sleep disorders could result in a reduction in SDB. Following the workshop, a critical review of the literature in the field of sleep and SDB was conducted in order to assess the impact of improving sleep on SDB, and to determine whether measures taken to improve sleep result in a subsequent improvement in SDB. Results showed that studies evaluating the influence of improved sleep on respiratory abnormalities in patients with SDB are lacking. Studies in patients with OSA, with or without obesity-hypoventilation syndrome, show that therapy with continuous positive airways pressure and non-invasive ventilation improves sleep parameters with beneficial effects on SDB. Studies involving small numbers of patients have shown that the antidepressants fluoxetine and mirtazapine produce improvements in sleep parameters and the apnoea-hypopnoea index, and that acetazolamide may improve CSA. The benzodiazepines flurazepam, temazepam and nitrazepam, the hypnotic zolpidem, the melatonin receptor agonist ramelteon and gamma-hydroxybutyrate have all been shown to improve sleep, but are not associated with reductions or worsening in SDB. It is clear that there is a distinct knowledge gap with regard to the benefit of improving sleep disturbances for subsequent improvements in SDB. Randomized controlled clinical trials investigating the effect of pharmacological and non-pharmacological improvement of sleep disorders focusing on whether there is improvement in coexisting OSA/SDB are clearly needed. Furthermore, well-designed clinical trials investigating the role of hypnotic agents in improving SDB in certain phenotypes will enable the development of treatment recommendations for primary care physicians managing these patients in routine clinical practice.