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Professor Helen Ball


PhD, MA, BSc (Hons)

Professor in the Department of Anthropology
Fellow of the Durham Research Methods Centre
Fellow of the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing


Helen Ball is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre. She obtained her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992.

Helen studies infant sleep and the parent-infant sleep relationship from a biosocial perspective. Broadly defined, her research examines sleep ecology, 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.

Helen 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 Basis-- the Baby Sleep Information Source website ( She serves as Associate Editor of the journal Sleep Health, and is on the Ediotial Board of the Journal of Human Lactation. She is Chair of the Lullaby Trust Scientific Committe, and an elected Board Member of the International Society for the Study and Prevention of Infant Deaths (ISPID).

In 2013 Helen received an award for Outstanding Impact in Society from the Economic and Social Research Council, and in 2018 Durham University was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for her research and outreach 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 Durham Infancy & Sleep Centre, 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.

Research interests

  • Infant Sleep Safety, Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI), SIDS
  • Relationship of sleeping and infant feeding methods
  • Videosomnography of parent-infant sleep
  • Integration of evolutionary and socio-cultural perspectives on anthropology of infant sleep
  • Coping with infant-related sleep disruption -- effects on parents
  • Development of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms
  • Parenting, infant care, infant feeding, infant mortality
  • Evolutionary medicine

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Supervision students