Hollywood Actress Dies From Sleep Apnea: What to Take Away

Amanda Peterson, star of the 80s classic Can’t Buy Me Love, passed away earlier this month.

The actress began her career in 1982 with her role as an orphan in “Annie” and a few other jobs before finding her break-out role opposite Patrick Dempsey. Though she had cut back on acting by 1994, Amanda did not step out of the Hollywood lifestyle.  Over the course of 12 years, she was arrested five times for various alcohol and narcotic related charges.  But no: the 43-year-old’s unfortunate death does not appear to be the result of a drug overdose.

Instead, the actress’s family attributes her death, at least partially, to her sleep apnea.

Amanda Peterson Death: Sleep Apnea a Probable Cause

Ms. Peterson’s father is quoted as saying, “She had…a sleep apnea problem that may have contributed.” 

This may seem like an unusual cause of death in an already unexpected case. In fact, the star’s death disproves a couple of common myths about sleep apnea, and teaches some important lessons about this serious sleep disorder. 

Myth 1: Sleep apnea isn’t fatal. 

Unfortunately…this just isn’t true. Multiple studies have confirmed that people suffering from sleep apnea have a much greater mortality than healthy sleepers. For instance, one study1 investigated the survival rate of 385 male sleep apnea patients over an 8-year period. They found that men with severe sleep apnea were 33% more likely to pass away during the study period than their counterparts with only mild or moderate sleep apnea (AHI < 20) (63% vs 96% chance of survival). 

Another study2 examined the mortality of a population of over 1500 people over a period spanning almost two decades. They found that people with sleep apnea were a whopping 3 times more likely to die during the study period than people without sleep apnea.

When you consider the negative health consequences of sleep apnea, it’s not hard to understand these shocking statistics. Sleep apnea materially increases your blood pressure and your risk for conditions like heart disease, stroke, dementia, and diabetes. That doesn’t even mention the increased risk of car accidents and the negative consequences of being sleep deprived day after day.  

Sleep apnea is a grave health condition that puts a huge amount of strain on all parts of your body. It certainly causes deterioration of your health and concentration, and if left untreated, it can absolutely lead to death. 

Myth 2: Sleep apnea doesn’t affect women. 

Sleep apnea is often portrayed as a man’s disease, primarily affecting overweight, middle-aged menThis is not true. Sleep apnea can affect all kinds of people of all ages–including women

Women suffer from sleep apnea at about half the rate that men do, but women still are seriously underdiagnosed for this sleep disorder. About 1 woman is diagnosed per 2-3 men. 

One issue for this disparity is that women tend to report different and more ambiguous symptoms than men, which can lead to them being misdiagnosed. Another issue is that doctors might not think to test women for sleep apnea since it is often associated with men.

Regardless, sleep apnea is just as serious a sleep disorder in females as in males. It is important that women who are experiencing sleeping disruptions read over this list of sleep apnea symptoms and talk to their doctor about sleep apnea.

The Take-Away Lesson

Amanda Peterson’s death shows us that sleep apnea isn’t just loud snoring. It’s a serious health threat that can potentially affect nearly anyone. It’s important that if you have sleep apnea, you be tested so you can begin treatment and avoid the serious health effects of this sleep disorder. Talk to your doctor about having a sleep study. 

Request a sleep study


1) He, J. et al. “Mortality and apnea index in obstructive sleep apnea. Experience in 385 male patients.” Chest Journal. 

2) Young, Terry Ph.D. et al. “Sleep Disordered Breathing and Mortality: Eighteen-Year Follow-up of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort.” Journal Sleep.

Photo: IMBD

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