Reward-related brain function and sleep in pre/early pubertal and mid/late pubertal adolescents

J Adolesc Health. 2009 Oct;45(4):326-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.04.001. Epub 2009 May 31.


Purpose: The onset of adolescence is a time of dramatic changes, including changes in sleep, and a time of new health concerns related to increases in risk-taking, sensation seeking, depression, substance use, and accidents. As part of a larger study examining puberty-specific changes in adolescents' reward-related brain function, the current article focuses on the relationship between functional neuroimaging measures of reward and measures of sleep.

Methods: A total of 58 healthy participants 11-13 years of age completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan using a guessing task with monetary rewards and 4 days of at-home actigraphy and self-reported sleep ratings. Sleep variables included actigraph measures of mean weekend minutes asleep, sleep onset time, and sleep offset time, as well as self-reported sleep quality.

Results: During reward anticipation, less activation in the caudate (part of the ventral striatum) was associated with fewer minutes asleep, later sleep onset time, and lower sleep quality. During reward outcome, less caudate activation was associated with later sleep onset time, earlier sleep offset time, and lower sleep quality.

Conclusions: It has been hypothesized that adolescents' low reactivity in reward-related brain areas could lead to compensatory increases in reward-driven behavior. This study's findings suggest that sleep could contribute to such behavior. Because decreased sleep has been associated with risky behavior and negative mood, these findings raise concerns about a negative spiral whereby the effects of puberty and sleep deprivation may have synergistic effects on reward processing, contributing to adolescent behavioral and emotional health problems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Puberty
  • Reward*
  • Sleep*
  • Task Performance and Analysis