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BACKGROUND--Patients with the sleep apnoea/hypopnoea syndrome (SAHS) and their spouses often differ in their assessment of the patient's sleepiness. A study was therefore undertaken to investigate whether either the patient's or partner's rating on the Epworth sleepiness scale (ESS) was better related to illness severity. METHODS--Nocturnal variables (apnoeas+hypopnoeas/hour (AHI) and arousals/hour) and patient and partner ESS scores were compared in 103 new patients attending the sleep clinic. RESULTS--Mean patient and partner ESS scores were not different. In the whole population neither patient nor partner ESS variables correlated with AHI or arousal frequency. In the patients with SAHS (AHI > or = 15), partner ESS correlated weakly with AHI, but patient ESS did not. CONCLUSIONS--This study suggests that neither patient nor partner ESS ratings are strong predictors of SAHS severity.