People with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) are waiting up to two years for treatment on the NHS, according to reports.
About two million people in the UK have moderate or severe symptoms related to OSA, which makes them temporarily stop breathing while asleep.
This can happen hundreds of times a night, leaving people exhausted with poor memory and concentration and a significantly higher risk of accidents.
A recent spike in diagnosis has been linked to rising levels of obesity.
Respiratory consultant Dr Annabel Nickol, who leads the sleep and ventilation service in Oxford, told BBC News that patients with disabling symptoms were being left to struggle alone because services were at capacity across the country.
“There is a crisis facing sleep services in the UK,” she warned. “During prolonged waiting periods, patients are exposed to ongoing burdensome symptoms and the six-fold increased risk of having a road traffic accident due to loss of concentration or ‘micro-sleeps’ behind the wheel.”
She added that if patients are advised to discontinue driving until they receive effective treatment, they may have significant loss of independence or even loss of employment.