REM sleep stabilizes eating behavior, study finds


The activation of neurons in the hypothalamus during REM sleep regulates eating behavior, and suppressing this activity in mice decreases appetite, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

For the study, researchers from the University of Bern set out to investigate the function of the activity of hypothalamic neurons in mice during REM sleep. They aimed at better understanding how neural activation during REM sleep influences our day-to-day behavior. They discovered that suppressing the activity of these neurons decreases the amount of food the mice consume.

The researcher discovered that specific activity patterns of neurons in the lateral hypothalamus that usually signal eating in the awake mouse are also present when the animals were in the stage of REM sleep. To assess the importance of these activity patterns during REM sleep the research group used a technique called optogenetics, with which they used light pulses to precisely shut down the activity of hypothalamic neurons during REM sleep. As a result, the researchers found that the activity patterns for eating were modified and that the animals consumed less food.

These findings point out that sleep quantity alone is not solely required for our well-being, but that sleep quality plays a major role in maintaining appropriate eating behavior. This is of particular relevance in our society where not only sleep quantity decreases but where sleep quality is dramatically affected by shift work, late night screen exposure or social jet-lag in adolescents, according to Antoine Adamantidis, PhD, lead author of the study and professor at the university.

“The discovered link between the activity of the neurons during REM sleep and eating behavior may help developing new therapeutic approaches to treat eating disorders,” said Adamantidis in a statement. “It might also be relevant for motivation and addiction. However, this relationship might depend on the precise circuitry, the sleep stage and other factors yet to be uncovered.”