Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli

Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;95(4):818-24. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.027383. Epub 2012 Feb 22.


Background: Epidemiologic evidence shows an increase in obesity concurrent with a reduction in average sleep duration among Americans. Although clinical studies propose that restricted sleep affects hormones related to appetite, neuronal activity in response to food stimuli after restricted and habitual sleep has not been investigated.

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine the effects of partial sleep restriction on neuronal activation in response to food stimuli.

Design: Thirty healthy, normal-weight [BMI (in kg/m²): 22-26] men and women were recruited (26 completed) to participate in a 2-phase inpatient crossover study in which they spent either 4 h/night (restricted sleep) or 9 h/night (habitual sleep) in bed. Each phase lasted 6 d, and functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed in the fasted state on day 6.

Results: Overall neuronal activity in response to food stimuli was greater after restricted sleep than after habitual sleep. In addition, a relative increase in brain activity in areas associated with reward, including the putamen, nucleus accumbens, thalamus, insula, and prefrontal cortex in response to food stimuli, was observed.

Conclusion: The findings of this study link restricted sleep and susceptibility to food stimuli and are consistent with the notion that reduced sleep may lead to greater propensity to overeat.

Trial registration: NCT00935402.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • New York City
  • Organ Specificity
  • Overnutrition / etiology
  • Prosencephalon / metabolism
  • Prosencephalon / physiopathology*
  • Reward
  • Sleep Deprivation / metabolism
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*

Associated data