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Clinical Trial
. 2012 Apr;95(4):818-24.
doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.027383. Epub 2012 Feb 22.

Sleep Restriction Leads to Increased Activation of Brain Regions Sensitive to Food Stimuli

Free PMC article
Clinical Trial

Sleep Restriction Leads to Increased Activation of Brain Regions Sensitive to Food Stimuli

Marie-Pierre St-Onge et al. Am J Clin Nutr. .
Free PMC article


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.


Brain activation in response to food > nonfood stimuli during a period of restricted sleep > habitual sleep (A), restricted sleep (B), and habitual sleep (C), as assessed by using SPM5 (cluster-level P < 0.01, cluster ≥ 10). n = 26. Corresponding coordinates are provided in Tables 2–4 and in supplementary materials under “Supplemental data” in the online issue. Contrasts for food > nonfood were performed for each subject and averaged. After individual analyses, a paired t test for group analysis was performed by using the same statistical parameters to compare regional brain activity with food > nonfood for restricted sleep > habitual sleep. CC, corpus callosum; Hypothal, hypothalamus; IFG, inferior frontal gyrus; LG, lingual gyrus; MeFG, medial frontal gyrus; NAc, nucleus accumbens; OFC, orbitofrontal cortex; SFG, superior frontal gyrus; SPM, Statistical Parametric Mapping; Thal, thalamus.

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