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Sleep loss produces abnormal increases in reward seeking but the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly understood. The present study examined the influence of one night of sleep deprivation on neural responses to a monetary reward task in a sample of late adolescents/young adults.
Using a within-subjects crossover design, 27 healthy, right-handed late adolescents/young adults (16 females, 11 males; mean age 23.1 years) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) following a night of sleep deprivation and following a night of normal sleep. Participants' recent sleep history was monitored using actigraphy for 1 week prior to each sleep condition.
Following sleep deprivation, participants exhibited increased activity in the ventral striatum (VS) and reduced deactivation in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) during the winning of monetary reward, relative to the same task following normal sleep conditions. Shorter total sleep time over the five nights before the sleep-deprived testing condition was associated with reduced deactivation in the mPFC during reward.
These findings support the hypothesis that sleep loss produces aberrant functioning in reward neural circuitry, increasing the salience of positively reinforcing stimuli. Aberrant reward functioning related to insufficient sleep may contribute to the development and maintenance of reward dysfunction-related disorders, such as compulsive gambling, eating, substance abuse and mood disorders.