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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Prof Helen L. Ball, BSc, MA, PhD

Personal web page

Member of the Sleep Lab

Contact Prof Helen L. Ball


Helen Ball is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the University's Parent-Infant Sleep Lab . She pioneers the study of infant sleep and the parent-infant sleep relationship from a biosocial perspective. She obtained her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992. 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. 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 ( In 2013 Prof Ball received an award for Outstanding Impact in Society from the Economic and Social Research Council for her work on parent-infant sleep.

Queen's Anniversary Prize

Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have presented the UK’s highest academic honour to Durham University for research that has helped to shape the way babies sleep and how parents care for them at night time.

At the awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace, similar to an investiture, the Royal couple awarded The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education to the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and Professor Helen Ball, Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab, with the University’s Chancellor, Sir Thomas Allen, in attendance.

The prize has been awarded to Durham University for ‘leading influential research on parent-infant sleep with a widely-used public information service’. The awards, part of the national honours system in the UK, are approved by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister from recommendations made by the Royal Anniversary Trust’s Awards Council.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, commented: “We are hugely honoured to receive this prestigious award, which recognises the immensely valuable and wide-reaching impact of the research carried out by the team in the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab. At Durham, we aim to deliver research that is world-leading and world-changing and the work of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab is a perfect example of this commitment.”

Research Interests

  • Integration of evolutionary and socio-cultural perspectives on anthropology of infant sleep
  • How parents cope with infant-related sleep distruption
  • Development of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms
  • Human behaviour: parenting, infant care, infant mortality, SIDS, infanticide
  • Behaviour and physiology of infant sleep
  • Midwifery and postnatal care
  • Evolutionary medicine

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

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Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing

Research Projects

Department of Anthropology

School of Education

  • Teen Sleep Pilot Evaluation

Related Links

Selected Grants

  • 2017: RI170013: Coping with Infant Sleep, ESRC £21959.00, 2017-06-15 - 2018-12-15
  • 2016: Baby Bed Box Project - Let's Talk About Infant Sleep (£63500.00 from The Scottish Government)
  • 2016: Teen Sleep Pilot Evaluation (£78207.00 from Education Endowment Foundation)
  • 2015: A New Approach for Improving Infant Sleep-Sharing Safety: a feasibility study (£36787.00 from The Lullaby Trust)
  • 2014: FP7-COFUND-DIFeREns2 - Anthropology (£116085.20 from European Commission)
  • 2011: Infant Sleep Information Source (ISIS) Project (£96087.00 from ESRC)
  • 2016: Teen Sleep Pilot Evaluation (£11357.00 from Education Endowment Foundation)
  • 2014: Exploring the experiences of families living in fuel poverty and its impact on children's educational outcomes (£304.00 from Chesshire Lehmann Fund)
  • 2008: RF170040: Bradford Infant Care Study (BradICS), Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths, £78554, 2008-09-01 - 2010-08-31
  • 2007: KTP - REDCAR & CLEVELAND PCT (£114416.00 from Redcar & Cleveland PCT)
  • 2007: RF170028: NIHR Research for the Patient Benefit Programme: NECOT Trial, £263,104, 2007-11-01 - 2011-09-30
  • 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: R170208: Bedding-in on the postnatal ward (Pilot Study), Community Foundation, £2710.00, 2001-06-01 - 2001-09-30
  • 2000: Co-bedding in twins (£70358.00 from Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths)
  • 2000: R170194: Fellowship -- Dr HL Ball, The Leverhulme Trust, £4532.00, 2000-09-01 - 2001-03-31
  • 1999: R170155: Risks to infants of sharing the parental bed, Scottish Cot Death Trust, £64607.00, 1999-10-01 - 2001-09-30
  • 1999: R170193: Internship-MS CHI THAI, The Wellcome Trust, £1080.00, 1999-06-14 - 1999-08-13
  • 1999: R170196: Internship-MS L GOODHALL, The Nuffield Foundation, £1400.00, 1999-10-01 - 2001-09-30
  • 1998: R170191: Parent-Infant Sleep Strategies, Foundation for Study of Infant Deaths, £59004.00, 1998-05-01 - 2000-04-30