Prolonged sleep deprivation in rats produces a characteristic syndrome consisting of an increase in food intake yet a decrease in weight. Moreover, the increase in food intake generally precedes the weight loss, suggesting that sleep deprivation may affect appetitive behaviors. Using the multiple platform method to produce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep deprivation, we investigated the effect of REM sleep deprivation (REMSD) on motivation for food reward utilizing food-reinforced operant tasks. In acquisition or maintenance of an operant task, REM sleep-deprived rats, with or without simultaneous food restriction, decreased responding for sucrose pellet reward in comparison to controls, despite the fact that all REM sleep-deprived rats lost weight. Furthermore, the overall response deficit of the REM sleep-deprived rats was due to a within-session decline in responding. REM sleep-deprived rats showed evidence of understanding the contingency of the task comparable to controls throughout deprivation period, suggesting that the decrements in responding were not primarily related to deficits in learning or memory. Rather, REM sleep deprivation appears to alter systems involved in motivational processes, reward, and/or attention.