Although a broad range of neuropsychological deficits has been reported in patients with severe sleep disordered breathing (SDB), little is known about the impact of mild SDB on neuropsychological performance. In this study, we compared neuropsychological test performance in two groups of carefully screened volunteers who differed clearly according to the respiratory disturbance index (RDI). Controls (n = 20) were identified on the basis of an RDI < 5; cases (n = 32) had an RDI in the range of 10-30. Cases and controls were well matched with regard to IQ, age, and sex. Cases had significantly more self-reported snorting and apneas and a higher body mass index than controls but did not differ according to sleepiness as measured by either the multiple sleep latency test or the Epworth sleepiness scale. An extensive battery of neuropsychological and performance tests was administered after an overnight sleep study. Cases performed significantly more poorly on a visual vigilance task (perceptual sensitivity, d': 2.24 +/- 0.64 vs. 2.70 +/- 0.53, p = 0.01, for cases and controls, respectively) and a test of working memory, the Wechsler adult intelligence scale-revised digits backwards test (6.12 +/- 2.20 vs. 7.55 +/- 2.22, p = 0.02), than controls. The groups did not differ in their performance on other tests of memory, information processing, and executive functioning. In summary, subjects with mild SDB may manifest a vigilance deficit in the absence of substantial sleepiness. Subjects with a mildly elevated RDI (10-30) without sleepiness do not appear to suffer appreciable deficits in more complex neuropsychological processes (e.g. executive functions).