The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain

Nat Commun. 2013:4:2259. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3259.


Epidemiological evidence supports a link between sleep loss and obesity. However, the detrimental impact of sleep deprivation on central brain mechanisms governing appetitive food desire remains unknown. Here we report that sleep deprivation significantly decreases activity in appetitive evaluation regions within the human frontal cortex and insular cortex during food desirability choices, combined with a converse amplification of activity within the amygdala. Moreover, this bi-directional change in the profile of brain activity is further associated with a significant increase in the desire for weight-gain promoting high-calorie foods following sleep deprivation, the extent of which is predicted by the subjective severity of sleep loss across participants. These findings provide an explanatory brain mechanism by which insufficient sleep may lead to the development/maintenance of obesity through diminished activity in higher-order cortical evaluation regions, combined with excess subcortical limbic responsivity, resulting in the selection of foods most capable of triggering weight-gain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavior
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology
  • Male
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult