Two sons and their father had severe hypersomnolence and obstructive sleep apnea. A third son, although asymptomatic, was shown to have upper-airway obstruction during sleep. Electromyographic recordings of genioglossus activity in the two symptomatic sons revealed loss of tonic activity in early stages of sleep at times when sleep apnea occurred. The asymptomatic son showed loss of tonic activity during rapid-eye-movement sleep, the sleep period when upper-airway obstruction occurred. Two sudden deaths occurred in this family. A 30-year-old brother died at home while asleep, and a child of the asymptomatic brother died at the age of four months from presumed sudden-infant-death syndrome. Obstructive sleep apnea may have a familial basis; the tongue may be involved in the genesis of upper-airway obstruction during sleep.