Patients with the sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome (SAHS) have impaired daytime function with demonstrable sleepiness and impaired cognition. The hypothesis that brief arousals from sleep cause these daytime impairments was tested. One hundred and fifty patients with sleep disordered breathing were studied prospectively, comparing overnight polysomnography with daytime measures of objective sleepiness, psychological well-being and cognitive performance. Significant, but weak (r2<0.1), relationships were seen between several nocturnal measures (apnoea/hypopnoea index, arousals and desaturation variables) and daytime measures of quality of life, well-being, subjective sleepiness, symptoms and cognitive performance. The only significant relationship between nocturnal variables and objective sleepiness was a very weak correlation (r2<0.05) between the lowest oxygen saturation and mean maintenance of wakefulness test (MWT) result. The MWT was better correlated with daytime function than the multiple sleep latency test. This study shows a lack of strong relationships between conventional nocturnal measures and daytime function in patients with sleep disordered breathing.