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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Prof Helen L. Ball, BSc, MA, PhD

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Member of the Sleep Lab

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Helen Ball obtained her PhD in Biological Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992. Her undergraduate degree was in Human Biology, and her interests span both biology and anthropology. Helen spent several years in the Caribbean where she conducted her PhD fieldwork. Following her appointment as a Lecturer in Anthropology at Durham in 1993 Helen began a programme of research on night-time infant care, established the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab in 2000, and was promoted to Professor of Anthropology in 2007. Broadly defined, her research examines sleep ecology, particularly of infants, young children and their parents. This encompasses attitudes and practices regarding infant sleep, behavioural and physiological monitoring of infants and their parents during sleep, infant sleep development, and the discordance between cultural sleep preferences and biological sleep needs. She has conducted research in hospitals and the community, and contributes to national and international policy and practice guidelines on infant care. See She pioneers the translation of academic research on infant sleep into evidence for use by parents and healthcare staff via ISIS -- the Infant Sleep Information Source website (

Research Interests

  • Behaviour and physiology of infant sleep
  • Child sleep and obesity
  • Development of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms
  • Evolutionary medicine
  • Human behaviour: parenting, infant care, infant mortality, SIDS, infanticide
  • Midwifery and postnatal care
  • Infant feeding and sleeping

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Conference Proceeding

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

Other (Print)


  • Ball, H.L. (2002). Risks to infants of sharing the parental bed: a physiological & behavioural study. Final report to Scottish Cot Death Trust. Glasgow.
  • Ball, H.L., Hooker, E. & Heslop, E. (2000). Night-time caregiving and parent-infant sleep strategies in the North East of England. Final Report to Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. London.

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Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Research Projects

Related Links

Selected Grants

  • 2011: Infant Sleep Information Source (ISIS) Project (£96087.00 from ESRC)
  • 2008: BradICS (£10122.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2008: Foundation for the Study of Infant Death (FSID): Bradford Infant Care Study (£78,554)
  • 2007: KTP - REDCAR & CLEVELAND PCT (£114416.00 from Redcar & Cleveland PCT)
  • 2007: NECOT (£229875.45 from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust)
  • 2007: NIHR Research for the Patient Benefit Programme: NECOT Trial (£263,104)
  • 2003: IMPACT OF BEDDING-IN ON BREASTFEEDING RATES (£1240.00 from The Wellcome Trust)
  • 2003: NEW DATA COLLECTION METHODOLOGY (£5825.62 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2003: THE ROLE OF PARENTS (£4950.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2002: BEDDING-IN ON THE POSTNATAL WARD (£144558.00 from Babes in Arms)
  • 2001: BEDDING IN ON THE POST-NATAL WARD - PILOT STUDY (£2710.00 from Community Foundation)
  • 2000: Co-bedding in twins (£70358.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2000: FELLOWSHIP - DR H.L. BALL (£4532.00 from The Leverhulme Trust)
  • 1999: RISKS TO INFANTS OF SHARING THE PARENTAL BED (£64607.00 from Scottish Cot Death Trust)
  • 1998: PARENT-INFANT SLEEP STRATEGIES (£59004.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)