Limited data have suggested that sleep-disordered breathing, a condition of repeated episodes of apnea and hypopnea during sleep, is prevalent among adults. Data from the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study, a longitudinal study of the natural history of cardiopulmonary disorders of sleep, were used to estimate the prevalence of undiagnosed sleep-disordered breathing among adults and address its importance to the public health. A random sample of 602 employed men and women 30 to 60 years old were studied by overnight polysomnography to determine the frequency of episodes of apnea and hypopnea per hour of sleep (the apnea-hypopnea score). We measured the age- and sex-specific prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing in this group using three cutoff points for the apnea-hypopnea score (> or = 5, > or = 10, and > or = 15); we used logistic regression to investigate risk factors. The estimated prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing, defined as an apnea-hypopnea score of 5 or higher, was 9 percent for women and 24 percent for men. We estimated that 2 percent of women and 4 percent of men in the middle-aged work force meet the minimal diagnostic criteria for the sleep apnea syndrome (an apnea-hypopnea score of 5 or higher and daytime hypersomnolence). Male sex and obesity were strongly associated with the presence of sleep-disordered breathing. Habitual snorers, both men and women, tended to have a higher prevalence of apnea-hypopnea scores of 15 or higher. The prevalence of undiagnosed sleep-disordered breathing is high among men and is much higher than previously suspected among women. Undiagnosed sleep-disordered breathing is associated with daytime hypersomnolence.