Intended for healthcare professionals


Snoring and breathing pauses during sleep: telephone interview survey of a United Kingdom population sample

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 22 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:860
  1. Maurice M Ohayon, directora,
  2. Christian Guilleminault, professorb,
  3. Robert G Priest, head, academic department of psychiatryc,
  4. Malijai Caulet, scientista
  1. a Centre de Recherche Philippe Pinel de Montreal Montreal Quebec H1C 1H1 Canada
  2. b Stanford University School of Medicine Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Centre Stanford California USA
  3. c University of London Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's Paterson Centre London W2 1PD
  1. Correspondence and reprint requests to: Dr Ohayon
  • Accepted 29 November 1996


Objectives: To determine the prevalence of snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, and obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome and determine the relation between these events and sociodemographic variables, other health problems, driving accidents, and consumption of healthcare resources.

Design: Telephone interview survey directed by a previously validated computerised system (Sleep-Eval).

Setting: United Kingdom.

Subjects: 2894 women and 2078 men aged 15-100 years who formed a representative sample of the non-institutionalised population.

Main outcome measures: Interview responses.

Results: Forty per cent of the population reported snoring regularly and 3.8% reported breathing pauses during sleep. Regular snoring was significantly associated with male sex, age 25 or more, obesity, daytime sleepiness or naps, night time awakenings, consuming large amounts of caffeine, and smoking. Breathing pauses during sleep were significantly associated with obstructive airways or thyroid disease, male sex, age 35-44 years, consumption of anxiety reducing drugs, complaints of non-restorative sleep, and consultation with a doctor in the past year. The two breathing symptoms were also significantly associated with drowsiness while driving. Based on minimal criteria of the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (1990), 1.9% of the sample had obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. In the 35-64 year age group 1.5% of women (95% confidence interval 0.8% to 2.2%) and 3.5% of men (2.4% to 4.6%) had obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome.

Conclusions: Disordered breathing during sleep is widely underdiagnosed in the United Kingdom. The condition is linked to increased use of medical resources and a greater risk of daytime sleepiness, which augments the risk of accidents. Doctors should ask patients and bed partners regularly about snoring and breathing pauses during sleep.

Key messages

  • Disordered breathing during sleep is related to several health problems and may have important daytime repercussions

  • The prevalence of disordered breathing during sleep has not been well known in the United Kingdom until now

  • Middle aged men are at higher risk of reporting snoring, breathing pauses during sleep, or obstructive apnoea syndrome

  • Daytime sleepiness, poor sleep, obesity, and the use of healthcare resources are highly correlated with disordered breathing during sleep

  • Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome is widely unrecognised, and consumption of healthcare resources is higher in this specific population, raising the question of the cause of this higher consumption


  • Finding This work was supported by a grant from the Synthelabo Group.

  • Conflict of interest None.

  • Accepted 29 November 1996
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