Some people are lucky enough to fall asleep the moment their head hits the pillow.

I've never been one of them, but I've never had to rely on sleep meds to get my rest, either, and that's a good thing: The latest warning finds that these drugs come with one whopper of a death risk.

People who take them the most are 5.3 times more likely to die than people who don't take them at all, according to a new look at data on nearly 35,000 people. As a "bonus," sleeping pill users are also 35 percent more likely to get cancer.

You don't even have to hit the pill bottle particularly hard to face a dramatic increase in the risk of death, because the researchers found that just 18 pills a year can make you 3.6 times more likely to die.

Since some 30 million Americans take these meds every single year, the researchers say their study suggests the annual death toll from these drugs is between 320,000 and 507,000 in the United States alone.

Compare that to the 443,000 U.S. deaths blamed on smoking each year, and that makes these drugs as bad as (or even worse than) cigarettes.

And that's just crazy, since no one needs these drugs to get some sleep in the first place.

I asked Dr. Mark Stengler what's keeping so many people up at night, and he said the answer can vary from person to person -- but whatever the reason, most people can find a little short-term help in the form of melatonin.

He recommends the sublingual form of the so-called "sleep hormone." And if you're having trouble staying asleep, you'll want to get a timed-release version so the melatonin keeps flowing throughout the night.

In addition, there are some natural herbs -- include the classics like chamomile and passionflower -- that can help you get the rest you need without the risks of meds.

But Dr. Stengler cautions that these aren't cures so much as temporary fixes.

"Melatonin won't necessarily treat a sleep problem," he told me. "It'll just help you get to sleep."

He says the next step is working with your doctor to find the underlying cause of your nighttime woes -- and once you fix that, you won't need anything other than a comfortable pillow to get the rest you need.