It is hard to overstate the importance of sleep to good health and well being.

Think about times you’ve been sleep deprived, whether it was cramming for a test in college, or after a newborn entered your life, or you suffered with some insomnia. You probably felt tired, sad and emotionally sensitive.

May is Better Sleep Month, a time to raise awareness about the importance of sleep. Getting enough quality sleep improves your mental health, your physical health, your quality of life and your safety.

Sleep also allows your brain to prepare for the next day and helps you learn and remember new information. It also helps heal and repair your heart and blood vessels.

People who don’t get enough sleep are less productive, take longer to finish tasks and have a slower reaction time, which can impact your safety during driving or in your line of work. Certainly, you wouldn’t want a tired surgeon to operate on you. Or a tired pilot to be flying your plane.

How much sleep is enough?

It varies depending on age. It’s recommended that infants and children get 12 to 16 hours of sleep a day, including naps. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours to function at their best. Adults should get seven to nine hours.

When you sleep is important, too. Not sleeping when you feel ready to sleep can feel as bad as someone who missed several hours of sleep. If you’re a night-shift worker, or if your sleep is routinely interrupted, you should pay special attention to your sleep need.

When we’re busy, sleep is usually the first sacrifice. Go to bed a little later, get up a little earlier to make some “extra” time. But it’s not extra. You’re depriving yourself of much-needed sleep.

Here are some good habits to help you get the best sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends.
  • Use the hour before bed as quiet time — avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a computer screen or TV.
  • Avoid heavy or large meals within an hour of bedtime.
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine, especially late in the day.
  • Spend time outside every day and be physically active.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool and dark.
  • Use relaxation techniques before bed — a hot bath, meditating, mindfulness practices.

When should you talk to your doctor?

If you’re not just suffering with sleep deprivation or deficiency, you may have a sleep disorder.

Some signs that you may be dealing with a sleep disorder are:

  • If you sleep a lot but still don’t feel rested, you should talk to your doctor because there may be underlying health issues.
  • If you often feel sleepy during the day without cause.
  • If you’re having trouble adapting to shift work.

If you’re dealing with these issues, speak to your doctor about your sleep issues.

Kimberly Wendt is a nurse practitioner for Aurora Health Care at the health center in Lake Geneva.