Sleep and brain energy levels: ATP changes during sleep

J Neurosci. 2010 Jun 30;30(26):9007-16. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1423-10.2010.


Sleep is one of the most pervasive biological phenomena, but one whose function remains elusive. Although many theories of function, indirect evidence, and even common sense suggest sleep is needed for an increase in brain energy, brain energy levels have not been directly measured with modern technology. We here report that ATP levels, the energy currency of brain cells, show a surge in the initial hours of spontaneous sleep in wake-active but not in sleep-active brain regions of rat. The surge is dependent on sleep but not time of day, since preventing sleep by gentle handling of rats for 3 or 6 h also prevents the surge in ATP. A significant positive correlation was observed between the surge in ATP and EEG non-rapid eye movement delta activity (0.5-4.5 Hz) during spontaneous sleep. Inducing sleep and delta activity by adenosine infusion into basal forebrain during the normally active dark period also increases ATP. Together, these observations suggest that the surge in ATP occurs when the neuronal activity is reduced, as occurs during sleep. The levels of phosphorylated AMP-activated protein kinase (P-AMPK), well known for its role in cellular energy sensing and regulation, and ATP show reciprocal changes. P-AMPK levels are lower during the sleep-induced ATP surge than during wake or sleep deprivation. Together, these results suggest that sleep-induced surge in ATP and the decrease in P-AMPK levels set the stage for increased anabolic processes during sleep and provide insight into the molecular events leading to the restorative biosynthetic processes occurring during sleep.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Adenosine / pharmacology
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacology
  • Creatine / metabolism
  • Delta Rhythm
  • Electroencephalography
  • Male
  • Phosphocreatine / metabolism
  • Phosphorylation
  • Photoperiod
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / metabolism
  • Sleep Stages / drug effects
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Wakefulness / physiology


  • Central Nervous System Agents
  • Phosphocreatine
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Adenosine
  • Creatine