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Deficits in attention are a central mechanism through which performance in higher cognitive domains such as memory may be affected in sleep deprivation (SD). This chapter reviews how different facets of attention and information processing are compromised in sleep-deprived persons. It discusses the link between behavioral alterations and concurrently observed shifts in task-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signal as well as how imaging can reveal alterations in processing not evident in overt behavior. Complimenting attention's enhancement effects is its ability to suppress irrelevant distractors. This ability is impaired by SD. The perceptual load theory of attention provides a useful framework for evaluating SD-induced change in visual information processing. Reduced engagement of frontoparietal regions that mediate top-down control of attention has been demonstrated in experiments evaluating visual short-term memory (VSTM), preparatory attention, and selective attention.
An improved understanding of risky decision-making in sleep-deprived persons could have important real-world consequences. Traditional expectation-based models assume that individuals integrate information across outcomes and probabilities. Neuroeconomic studies that seek to understand the neural mechanisms underlying economic decision-making often target a particular decision variable, incorporate that variable into a model function, manipulate the level of that variable across a range of stimuli, and then identify aspects of brain function that track changes in that variable. Separating decision and outcome phases in the imaging analysis could also be important as sleep deprivation (SD) might interact with task context and feedback to influence neural responses and behavior. The shifts in economic preferences in the multiple outcome gambling experiment as well as relative valuation for social and monetary stimuli were independent of the effects of SD on psychomotor vigilance, consistent with the suggestion that effects of SD vary according to cognitive domain.
This chapter reviews three of the most important and topical advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques. Functional MRI (fMRI) permits dynamic evaluation of neural activity in specific brain regions. To understand normal and pathological brain function, one must understand the structural arrangement of white matter tracts, and how this arrangement varies between individuals. This goal can be approached in living subjects with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a variant of diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), which permits the non-invasive evaluation of regional white matter structure. Standard anatomical MRI depicts the structural features of the brain, while fMRI demonstrates regional brain activity. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), in contrast, allows non-invasive examination of the chemical composition of the brain. The advanced neuroimaging techniques described in this chapter allow non-invasive evaluation of the intact brain at biochemical, network, and functional levels.
Despite substantial research focusing on the interaction between sleep and cognition, especially memory, the impact of sleep and sleep loss on affective and emotional regulation has comparatively attracted much less attention. This might be surprising considering that nearly all psychiatric and neurological disorders with impaired mood express co-occurring abnormalities of sleep, and that many sleep disorders are accompanied by mood disturbances, thus suggesting an intimate relationship between sleep and emotion. Yet, recent studies evaluating subjective as well as objective measures of mood and affect, combined with insights from clinical observations and neuroimaging research, offer new evidence for the emerging role of sleep in regulating emotional brain function. In this chapter, we review clinical and neuroimaging data that support the existence of such complex interactions between sleep and emotion regulation. We report that (1) sleep disorders are frequently associated with affective symptoms; (2) patients with mood disorders often present with sleep disturbances; (3) sleep deprivation may transitorily alleviate depressive symptoms; (4) dream experiences may be highly emotional; (5) brain regions involved in emotion processing and regulation, such as the limbic (e.g., amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex) and ventromedial prefrontal regions, are strongly activated during REM sleep; (6) subjective mood assessments exhibit a circadian modulation. New data also show that some hypothalamic neuropeptides (hypocretin/orexin) play a dual role in the stabilization of sleep–wake states and on mesolimbic dopamine activity, with significant effects on neural plasticity related to emotional learning, reward processing, and addiction. Together, these seemingly disparate observations converge to indicate a physiological interplay between sleep–wake and emotional brain functions serving the modulation, the preparation, and the optimization of waking behavior.
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