“There are few things that disturb me but not sleeping is definitely one of them”

Katia Guerreiro
FOTO: Carlos Ramos


Katia Guerreiro, fado singer and physician, tries to have eight hours of sleep every night and says that she tries to have more sleep in the night before a concert. She is well aware, though, that people in Portugal do not sleep much. “Our Latin blood makes us wish the day would not end”, she says.

Do you have special concerns about sleep in the night before a show?
I make sure that I rest well and I am careful with the kind of dinner I have, so that I can have a calm night. It is very important to my daily life that I have about eight hours of sleep, but it is not always possible, because my little daughter occasionally wakes me up at night. That makes much difference to me, which is why I need a longer sleep to restore my energies in the night before a concert.
Do you easily adapt to different time zones, for example flying to Asia, because of jet lag?
I try to adjust myself to the time zone and start to do as the locals do to minimize the effects of jet lag, but there are no miracles or infallible techniques. That is exactly why I try to arrive a day or two before to adapt. Even on shorter trips with smaller time difference it makes a difference to me having to wake up an hour earlier, to eat earlier… A whole physical and mental adjustment is needed.
You have been visiting many countries in several continents. Have you become aware of different habits or sleep hygiene behaviours in relation to ours?
Yes, no doubt. In northern Europe countries, due to the shorter sun period in winter, I guess, the habit is to start the day early in the morning and leave jobs early. This requires greater discipline, but I am not sure that they sleep more than we do. I guess our Latin blood makes us wish the day would not end, so we sleep little.

How were your sleep habits in adolescence? You lived in a residence hall: how was it in terms of sleep? It has always been a rule at home that my brother and I sleep the recommended hours for a child. Of course at weekends we always stayed up until late but we would also wake up later. At the residence hall where I lived for a few months, I had to share a room with two students who had very different schedules. I was the last to wake up because my classes were in the afternoon. I have always liked to study late into the night, and the fact that I was waking up twice with alarm clocks that were not mine made me want to get out of there quickly. There are few things that disturb me, but not sleeping is definitely one of them.
Did you at some point learn about the importance of healthy sleep in medical school?
I do not remember ever having tackled the subject…

Should physicians in other specialties – such as ophthalmologists, like you – be aware of sleep problems?
I must clarify that I am not a specialist in ophthalmology, despite having worked in the area for several years. I think that sleep disturbances should be a focus target in various specialties. The impact that sleep has on our health and our life quality should be seen as a public health issue.
Have you ever had insomnia? Are you more of a “night owl” or a “lark”?
I have occasionally suffered from insomnia, as perhaps most people do, but there was a longer period in which I realized that my sleep was not healthy, either because it was very “light” or because it was too difficult for me to fall asleep, or because I woke up early, so I decided to change my daily routines, which were very focused on intellectual matters, to devote myself to some relaxing pleasures like cooking for friends, taking walks to catch more sun, and singing! I have been very much of an owl, but not anymore.

Literature and poetry are full of references to dreams… Why do you think its mysteries never cease to be portrayed?
Dreams are indeed a mystery, as are the matters of the heart, the emotions and feelings that are so often involved in dreams. There are, moreover, many references to dreams in the various forms of art. Let us remember a famous painting called “Dickens’ Dream”, for example. The main function of art is to arouse emotions; without emotions there would be no dreams, nor the other way around. You are right when you say it is a mystery, and perhaps because it is such an emotional phenomenon it is so often the subject of writing, painting, and even music.

Do you recall any personal or professional amusing history related to sleep or lack thereof?
I recall a story from my childhood. I was very little and my parents decided to have my room painted. That night I had to sleep in the living room. It just happened that I used to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, and I would do that as if in autopilot mode. So that night my mother heard me open the front door, leave and re-enter. What happened was that I turned to the same side as if I was going out of my bedroom door.