Blind individuals are not only handicapped by their loss of vision, but are also affected because the loss of sight may have a secondary impact on functioning of their biological clock. The objective of the present study was to determine the impact of visual loss on sleep/wake disorders. A prospective 48-item questionnaire survey was distributed to blind individuals through the French Association Valentin Haüy, which serves blind persons. A control group matched by age, sex, geographical location and professional activity/non-activity was obtained from a panel of 20000 households representative of the French population, and this group also completed the questionnaire. From a potential blind population of 1500 subjects, 1073 questionnaires (71.5%) were completed and usable for analysis, and from a potential 1000 control subjects, 794 (79.4%) of the questionnaires were returned and analysed. Criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th revision, and the International Classification of Sleep/Wake Disorders (1990) were used to determine pathology. Individuals determined to be ‘totally blind’ and ‘almost blind’ (i.e. with less than 10% vision left in only one eye) presented a significantly higher occurrence of sleep/wake disorders than controls. Nocturnal sleep disruption, daytime somnolence, and (to a lesser degree) a ‘free-running’ condition are significantly more common in blind individuals. There is an increased use of sleeping pills, and a higher incidence of inappropriate involuntary daily naps. In conclusion, individuals with blindness report a significant curtailment of total sleep time and hence resulting daytime somnolence, which impacts on daytime activities. A ‘free-running’ condition is also a common sleep/wake impairment that may compound the handicap of blindness.

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