Neurotoxic chemicals withheld from circulation while awake are released during sleep so they can be transported to organs that will remove them from the body. As the neurotoxins travel through the bloodstream, they have a hallucinogenic effect on the brain, causing dreams. The body keeps us unconscious while this happens and blocks our motor activity to prevent harm.
Neurotoxins produced during wakefulness are sequestered by the body at or near the site where they are produced. The site of production and sequestration is likely to be in the brain itself because neuroactive chemicals are probably most likely to metabolize into neurotoxic metabolites. Sequestration during wakefulness prevents the neurotoxins from affecting nerve cells during the time when they could cause the most harm.
Release is probably into the cerebrospinal fluid, via which the neurotoxins could affect nerve cells on their way to being absorbed into the blood and removed.
Metabolism during sleep is different from metabolism during wakefulness such that:
- Sequestered neurotoxic chemicals are released into the circulation so they can travel to appropriate organs for metabolism and removal.
- When the neurotoxins are in circulation, they can affect the brain and cause hallucinations, which we experience as dreams, since we are asleep and can't act on them.
- To prevent damage that would be caused by the behavior which would be produced if the neurotoxins were allowed to flow freely while awake, the brain is put into an unconscious state, with motor suppression. This immobilization could be effected in part directly by the action of the neurotoxins.
If we go too long without sleep, the sequestering sites begin to fill up, the body's ability to sequester neurotoxins degrades, and more and more of them slip into the circulation, causing pathological cognitive, mood, behavioral symptoms, and fatigue.
A disorder negatively affecting the body's ability to sequester neurotoxins could be a cause of mental illness.
A disorder negatively affecting the body's ability to release sequestered neurotoxins could negatively affect the body's ability to sequester them. It could also lead to a buildup, causing degenerative brain disease, such as Alzheimer's.
The hypothesis could be tested by analyzing a subject's blood and/or cerebrospinal fluid while awake and while in various sleep phases.
Ingestion of nutrients or drugs that aid in detoxification, especially at bedtime, could improve the effectiveness of sleep.
I am an amateur in this field. This was an idea that came to me as I was pondering this subject. I have no proof, and it could be entirely false.
If you find any factual errors, or if you are interested in or working on this area and have a comment or something to add, please contact me.
The earliest capture of this page on archive.org was in 2002, here.