Americans are addicted to sleeping pills

Sometimes, I can tell what the problem is before the patient even has a chance to speak.

Bloodshot eyes... dark circles and bags hanging under them... and a slow shuffle from the waiting room into my office.

Yes, it's a sure sign of someone with a sleep problem -- and if you're fighting that battle yourself, you're not alone.

New research from the CDC shows that the number of Americans drugging themselves to sleep has jumped by nearly a third in less than a decade, with close to 10 million of us popping prescription sleeping pills and sleep medications.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, too -- because you can bet the number of people on over-the-counter sleep medication is even higher.

Now, I can't say I blame them for trying. I know from my own patients how desperate people can be for a good night's sleep.

No, I blame their doctors -- doctors who should know better, because the research on this is crystal clear, and it shows that these sleep medications fail on two levels.

First, they just don't work for many people. They either don't increase sleep by enough to make a difference, or don't increase the amount of quality sleep you need to feel rested.

And second, they're dangerous.

Common sleep medications come with a long and ugly list of side effects, from run-of-the-mill stuff like nausea to far more serious conditions such as bizarre sleepwalking behavior.

They can even kill you, with one study last year showing how these meds can increase the risk of death by more than 500 percent and cancer by 35 percent.

There's a much better way, and I'm here to share it with you.

Start with lifestyle changes. You may not think you're sensitive to caffeine, but you could be -- and a cup of coffee or a can of soda late in the day could keep you up well into the night.

So skip the caffeine, especially after lunch (and always pass on the soda, even if you're not sensitive to caffeine).

Other lifestyle changes include turning off the TV, putting away the iPad and unplugging the cellphone, just to name three, because the lights from these devices can trick the brain into thinking it's still daytime, making it harder for you to fall asleep.

Regular exercise can also help you get to sleep -- but as I told you recently, a single workout won't do the trick.

You need to get moving three or four times a week. Over the course of a couple of months, regular exercise can add as much as 45 minutes to your nightly sleep, and you can read all the details for free right here.

Other natural sleep aids include chamomile, passionflower, GABA, theanine and Inositol as well as the "sleep hormone" melatonin -- but in many cases, these are quick fixes rather than long-term solutions.

If you're having trouble getting to sleep and lifestyle changes alone don't do the trick, you could be suffering from a nutritional or hormonal problem.

A holistic physician can run some tests and get you back on track.