Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Sleep deprivation amplifies striatal activation to monetary reward

B. C. Mullina1, M. L. Phillipsa2a3, G. J. Sieglea2, D. J. Buyssea2, E. E. Forbesa2 and P. L. Franzena2 c1

a1 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Children's Hospital Colorado, Aurora, CO, USA

a2 Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

a3 Department of Psychological Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK


Background 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.

Method 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.

Results 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.

Conclusions 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.

(Received January 30 2012)

(Revised November 06 2012)

(Accepted November 15 2012)

(Online publication January 04 2013)

Key words

  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging;
  • reward;
  • sleep;
  • sleep deprivation


c1 Address for correspondence: P. L. Franzen, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 3811 O'Hara Street E-1119, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA. (Email: