African sleeping sickness is a circadian rhythm disorder caused by the acceleration of biological clocks controlling a range of vital functions besides sleep, reports GEN News.

By understanding which clock genes are affected by the parasitic disease, scientists hope the research will eventually prove useful in developing therapeutic alternatives to the toxic treatments that are occasionally fatal to patients. “This is not specifically a sleeping disorder,” said Luisa Figueiredo, Ph.D., group leader at Instituto de Medicina Molecular.

The disease, known as human African trypanosomiasis, is transmitted through the bite of the tsetse fly and threatens tens of millions of people in sub-Saharan African countries. After entering the body, the parasite causes such symptoms as inverted sleeping cycles, fever, muscle weakness, and itching.