Those who owned up to having a lot of nightmares were also asked to describe their contents.
‘Topics like falling, being chased or paralysed do not have direct correspondences to waking-life experiences,’ said researcher Dr Michael Schredl from the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
‘A monster chasing you in a dream might reflect a daytime fear of a particular task lying ahead that one wishes to avoid.’
Dreams about hair and tooth loss are more common in women – perhaps signifying anxieties about losing their looks.
The findings came from a study in which researchers asked 2,000 men and women about their dreams.
A calm and collected 48 per cent claimed they never had nightmares. One in ten said they had frightening dreams several times a year and almost one in 20 woke up in terror at least once a fortnight.
Davina Mackail, a Daily Mail columnist and dream expert, said: ‘Nightmares are a response to something unresolved. They can be exacerbated by stress.
‘If you deal with what is showing up, they will go away.
‘You can lie to yourself when you are awake but not in your dreams.’
She said women tended to have more nightmares because of their hormones.
‘Often they can dream about violence just before their period is due.’
Dreaming is part of the normal sleep pattern and happens every night, even for those who insist they don’t dream.
Sleepers are most likely to remember nightmares and bad dreams if they wake up during them.