Women have more nightmares than men, a British researcher says, but men are more likely to dream about sex.

Psychologist Jennie Parker of the University of the West of England asked 100 women and 93 men between the ages of 18 and 25 to fill out dream diaries, priming participants before dreams occurred to record them. The research was part of her doctoral dissertation.

"My most significant finding is that women in general do experience more nightmares than men," she said. "An early study into dreams led to my discovering that normative research procedures into dream research often considered the structure of dreams, but that there is a gaping hole in terms of academic study that investigates emotional significance in the analysis of dreams."

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Women's nightmares can be broadly divided into three categories: fearful dreams (being chased or life threatened), losing a loved one or confused dreams, Parker said.

Parker corroborated participants' dreams with actual life experiences and found that the anxieties about past occurrences reoccur many times as "emblem" dreams.

"It is these emblem dreams that are particularly significant," Parker said. "If women are asked to report the most significant dream they ever had, they are more likely than men to report a very disturbing nightmare. Women reported more nightmares and their nightmares were more emotionally intense than men's."

Sex dreams

Men's dreams contained more references to sexual activity, Parker said, and men reported more actual intercourse, while women reported more kissing and sexual fantasies about other dream characters.

Women's dreams also were found to contain more family members, more negative emotion, more indoor settings and less physical aggression than men's dreams, Parker said.

Men made more references to attacks, or serious threat, but reported fewer verbally aggressive or covert acts of aggression. Men's and women's friendly behavior in dreams was the same; most often they reported helping other dream characters.

Recurring themes

In a comparison of pleasant versus unpleasant dreams among men and women, Parker found that men and women were more likely to be victims of aggressive interactions in unpleasant dreams than they were in pleasant dreams.

"In pleasant dreams the dreamer was more often the aggressor," Parker said. "Women had more unpleasant dreams than men and unpleasant dreams contained more misfortune, self-negativity and failures."

A lecture by former UWE researcher Susan Blackmore gave Parker a moment of epiphany that inspired her to examine more closely the stuff that dreams are made of, she said.

"My own nightmares had two reoccurring themes, one concerned standing on the beach at Weston-Super-Mare, my home town, when the tide suddenly goes out very fast and returns as a huge tidal wave that is about to engulf me," Parker said. "The other dream includes a dinosaur roaming the streets at night and looking in at my window. I wondered if my experience was common amongst women."

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