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Sleep. 2015 Feb 1;38(2):233-40. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4404.

How acute total sleep loss affects the attending brain: a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies.

Author information

Center for Functional Neuroimaging, Department of Neurology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
Division of Sleep and Chronobiology, Department of Psychiatry, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.



Attention is a cognitive domain that can be severely affected by sleep deprivation. Previous neuroimaging studies have used different attention paradigms and reported both increased and reduced brain activation after sleep deprivation. However, due to large variability in sleep deprivation protocols, task paradigms, experimental designs, characteristics of subject populations, and imaging techniques, there is no consensus regarding the effects of sleep loss on the attending brain. The aim of this meta-analysis was to identify brain activations that are commonly altered by acute total sleep deprivation across different attention tasks.


Coordinate-based meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of performance on attention tasks during experimental sleep deprivation.


The current version of the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) approach was used for meta-analysis. The authors searched published articles and identified 11 sleep deprivation neuroimaging studies using different attention tasks with a total of 185 participants, equaling 81 foci for ALE analysis.


The meta-analysis revealed significantly reduced brain activation in multiple regions following sleep deprivation compared to rested wakefulness, including bilateral intraparietal sulcus, bilateral insula, right prefrontal cortex, medial frontal cortex, and right parahippocampal gyrus. Increased activation was found only in bilateral thalamus after sleep deprivation compared to rested wakefulness.


Acute total sleep deprivation decreases brain activation in the fronto-parietal attention network (prefrontal cortex and intraparietal sulcus) and in the salience network (insula and medial frontal cortex). Increased thalamic activation after sleep deprivation may reflect a complex interaction between the de-arousing effects of sleep loss and the arousing effects of task performance on thalamic activity.


attention; fmri; fronto-parietal network; meta-analysis; salience network; sleep deprivation; thalamus

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