01/26/2012 03:05 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2012

5 Tips For Battling Sleep Sickness

Sleep sickness is a serious condition that should be treated as soon as possible. We spoke with Aparajitha Verma, M.D., medical director of the Methodist Hospital Sleep Disorder Center in Houston, Texas, for one approach to the medical problems from which you or your loved ones may suffer when trying to sleep.

If you think you might have sleep sickness, use this as a reference point before getting personalized medical advice from your doctor or other accredited sleep expert. --Ed Condran

According to Dr. Verma, sleep sickness is caused by a tsetse fly, and the condition is similar to malaria. The bug spreads an infection, which goes to the brain and causes lethargy and illness.

Check For Symptoms

A tsetse fly bite is often painful and can develop into a red sore, called a chancre. In cases of East African trypanosomiasis, other symptoms occur within one to four weeks of infection and include fever, severe headache, irritability, extreme tiredness, swollen lymph glands, and aching muscles and joints. Weight loss and a body rash are also common. Infection of the central nervous system causes confusion, personality changes, slurred speech, seizures, and difficulty in walking and talking. If left untreated, the illness becomes worse, and death occurs within several weeks to months, says Dr. Verma.

See An Infectious Disease Doctor

Dr. Verma recommends seeing an infectious disease doctor if it appears that the sleep sickness is in a later stage. "Visit an infectious disease specialist if you have a fever or are in shock," she says. "They will look at a smear of your blood and will be able to tell if you have been bitten by a tsetse fly."


The good news is that medicine will restore health. Dr. Verma says to follow your doctor's orders and medicate. "Take the medication, which will cure the ailment," she says. "Modern medicine can handle it, but get treated early."

Elderly Should See A Doctor

You could have sleep sickness, and it may have nothing to do with a tsetse fly bite. If that's the case and you're elderly, Dr. Verma says to visit a physician. "If you're older and you're experiencing vertigo in bed, it might be a sign of a stroke," she advises. "See a doctor immediately."

Children Should Visit A Physician

Children not exposed to a tsetse fly may get sick in bed and experience vertigo. However, Dr. Verma stresses that it's not a major cause of concern. A routine visit to the doctor should provide a diagnosis. "The problem may be due to an inner ear infection," she says.

Aparajitha Verma, M.D., earned her degree from Sri Ram Chandra Medical College and Research Institute in Chennai, India. She and is medical director of the Methodist Hospital Sleep Disorder Center in Houston, Texas.

Have you ever suffered from sleep sickness? What worked for you?