The elderly have a high incidence of sleep complaints. A high incidence of sleep apnea (SA) and sleep-related periodic leg movements (PLMs) is also suspected. The relationship between the incidence and severity of SA and PLMs and sleep complaints has not, however, been determined in terms of symptomatology and physiologic abnormality. In a group of 46 community resident seniors (60 to 95 years old), the incidence of SA and PLMs was correlated with subjective sleep-wake complaints. Sixty-one percent of subjects had SA and/or PLMs. Apneas/hypopneas were associated with an average oxygen desaturation of less than 5% and an average change in heart rate of less than 10 beats per minute. While subjects with SA or PLMs had clear evidence of objective sleep disturbance, only one quarter of them admitted to any subjective sleep complaints or daytime sleepiness. Furthermore, severity of SA or PLMs failed to predict sleep-wake complaints, and vice versa. This study confirms that typically mild SA and PLMs are widespread in the elderly but tend not to be manifested in sleep-wake complaints and probably go untreated as a result. Further research is needed to determine any long-term medical significance.