PloS one

Neurophysiological effects of sleep deprivation in healthy adults, a pilot study.

PMID 25608023


Total sleep deprivation (TSD) may induce fatigue, neurocognitive slowing and mood changes, which are partly compensated by stress regulating brain systems, resulting in altered dopamine and cortisol levels in order to stay awake if needed. These systems, however, have never been studied in concert. At baseline, after a regular night of sleep, and the next morning after TSD, 12 healthy subjects performed a semantic affective classification functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) task, followed by a [11C]raclopride positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Saliva cortisol levels were acquired at 7 time points during both days. Affective symptoms were measured using Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Spielberger State Trait Anxiety Index (STAI) and visual analogue scales. After TSD, perceived energy levels, concentration, and speed of thought decreased significantly, whereas mood did not. During fMRI, response speed decreased for neutral words and positive targets, and accuracy decreased trendwise for neutral words and for positive targets with a negative distracter. Following TSD, processing of positive words was associated with increased left dorsolateral prefrontal activation. Processing of emotional words in general was associated with increased insular activity, whereas contrasting positive vs. negative words showed subthreshold increased activation in the (para)hippocampal area. Cortisol secretion was significantly lower after TSD. Decreased voxel-by-voxel [11C]raclopride binding potential (BPND) was observed in left caudate. TSD induces widespread cognitive, neurophysiologic and endocrine changes in healthy adults, characterized by reduced cognitive functioning, despite increased regional brain activity. The blunted HPA-axis response together with altered [11C]raclopride binding in the basal ganglia indicate that sustained wakefulness requires involvement of additional adaptive biological systems.