04/27/2012 06:25 pm ET

Change How You Feel About Pain, Sleep Better?

Chronic pain sufferers who avoid dwelling too much on their pain sleep better, according to a new study. The research also suggests this group might experience less pain overall.

"We have found that people who ruminate about their pain and have more negative thoughts about their pain don't sleep as well, and the result is they feel more pain," study co-author Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

He added that if cognitive behavioral therapy can help people who suffer from chronic pain to change how they think about it, they could end what he called a "vicious cycle," allowing people to feel and sleep better sans medication.

In the new study, published online in the journal Pain, researchers looked at more than 200 women with chronic jaw and face pain. Participants filled out questionnaires about their sleep patterns and pain levels, as well as their feelings about that pain. So-called "pain catastrophizing" was tied with greater sleep disturbances, the authors write.

This isn't the first time researchers have looked at how reactions to pain affect pain levels.

As the Mayo Clinic rehabilitation guide explains, pain catastrophizing is "an extreme negative way of thinking about actual or anticipated pain experiences," and is often tied with greater use of pain medication and health care services. And prior research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy can help reduce that tendency.

But the new findings might help the millions of Americans who report suffering from chronic pain to finally get their much-needed ZZZs -- up to 90 percent of them, WebMD reports, may have trouble sleeping.

"It may sound simple, but you can change the way you feel by changing the way you think," Buenaver said in the statement.