Research leader, Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says:
"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. If cognitive behavioral therapy can help people change the way they think about their pain, they might end that vicious cycle and feel better without sleeping pills or pain medicine."
Buenaver, and his team point out that the function of a major neurological pathway is to associate negative thoughts of pain with higher pain through disturbed sleep. Around 80% of people suffering from chronic pain experience sleep disturbances. Earlier studies have demonstrated that people whose sleep patterns are changed have a higher pain sensitivity, says Buenaver.
He continues saying that it is also known that those who frequently focus and think negatively of their pain report they experience more debilitating pain, a phenomenon known as "pain catastrophizing". It has been discovered that pain catastrophizing is a more reliable predictor of worse pain and pain-related disability in comparison with depression, neuroticism or anxiety.
Buenaver and his team enrolled 214 people who were, on average, 34 years old with TMD or myofascial temporomandibular disorder, a serious facial and jaw pain, which is often thought to be stress-related. Most participants were white and female. All participants first had a dental exam to confirm TMD before they were asked to fill out questionnaires, which included questions about their quality of sleep, depression, pain levels and emotional responses to pain, as well as whether they ponder on their pain or tend to exaggerate it.
The findings revealed TMD patients had a direct link between negative thoughts about pain, poor sleep and worse pain. Even though sleeping pills and painkillers may be effective, according to Buenaver, these patients could achieve the same benefits or even succeed them by having cognitive behavioral therapy. He continues saying that the same may apply to people suffering from other stress-related ailments that have no clear underlying pathology, for instance fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as neck and back pain and some forms of headaches, and states:
"It may sound simple, but you can change the way you feel by changing the way you think."
Buenaver and his team are currently investigating whether older adults with arthritis and insomnia can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia.