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Durham University

Durham University News


Newborns needed for baby sleep study

(15 March 2018)

Durham University’s Parent-Infant Sleep Lab is looking for parents-to-be or parents with newborn babies to take part in a study in their own homes.

The researchers want to find out how the hormone cortisol develops in newborn babies from soon after birth until they are six months old.

They are looking for parents in the North East of England who are expecting a baby, or have a baby who is less than four weeks old, to take part.

Cortisol development

The team is particularly looking at cortisol development in babies who will be breastfed and who sleep next to or close to the parents, either in the same bed or the same room as the parents.

Parents will be asked to collect a saliva sample from their baby, using a simple-to-use special swab, four times a day every four weeks, when the baby is four, eight, 12, 16, 20 and 24 weeks old. They will also be asked to complete a questionnaire and log sheet each month.

Keeping babies safe

Dr Charlotte Russell, who leads the research, said: “All of our work is aimed at keeping babies safe at night and understanding how different approaches to caring for them influence babies’ sleep. With this study, we hope that we can get a better idea of how cortisol develops in very young babies and how this may vary.

“Parents taking part will be given support from our team throughout the study and taking a saliva sample is very straightforward and non-invasive.”

Cortisol is produced by the human body throughout the lifecycle. It is known to be important for stress response, immune system function, metabolism, and for the body’s daily sleep-wake cycle. Researchers know very little about how and when cortisol cycles develop in babies, and how it may vary with different baby care practices.

National award

The Lab’s work with more than 5,000 parents and babies during the last 20 years has substantially increased parents’ understanding of babies’ sleep, how best to care for babies during the night, and how best to keep them safe when asleep.

As a result, the Lab was recently awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education - the highest accolade for any academic institution and part of the national honours system in the United Kingdom for its research into babies’ sleep.

The team conducts studies in people’s homes, in hospitals and in Durham University’s own sleep lab where parents and babies can be observed during the night with cameras and via breathing, heart rate and temperature monitors.

Parents interested in taking part can contact the team on or find out more from


Read more

Here PhD student, Alice-Amber Keegan talks about her experiences of researching babies’ sleep.

The Parent-Infant Sleep Lab will be holding its biennial conference for professionals and volunteers who work with and support parents, babies and new families on 19th April. Find out more here.

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