Helen Ball

My Interview

Me and my work

I am an anthropologist and infant sleep researcher at Durham University. Currently I am Head of the Anthropology Department. I founded and direct the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab (, and co-founded and run the Infant Sleep Information Source ( I grew up in South Yorkshire, and after an undergraduate degree in Biology, I got my PhD in Biological Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992 (the year I also had my first daughter).  Broadly defined, my 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. We conduct research in hospitals and the community, and we contribute to national and international policy and practice guidelines on infant care. We are not clinicians, and we do not attempt to diagnose paediatric sleep problems!

My Typical Day

As Head of Anthropology my day involves a lot of administrative work running the Department, meeting with staff, and reporting to the Faculty. In the rare moments I have for research I can be found overseeing a feasibility study for a safe infant sleep intervention, writing articles for publication, supervising research students, and giving talks to health professionals.

What's the best work related thing you've done?

The most amazing thing I do is travelling around the world sharing the results of our research. This year alone I have been to Australia and Japan, and I head to Sweden and Canada later this year. What is most personally fulfilling is meeting midwives and paediaticians in these far flung places who tell me they have followed and used my work for many years. That people around the world read what I write and want to hear what I have to say (even invite me to come and say it) is hugely motivating and rewarding.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Mother, researcher, globetrotter!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Taking my daughters and husband on every international work trip possible over the past 20 years. This year’s invitation to Japan came up just as the eldest daughter fiished her undergrad degree finals, and the youngest completed her A level exams. The day after her last exam we were on a plane to Tokyo 🙂

Who or what inspired you to do the work you're doing now?

My own babies were my inspiration, and my personal response to both motherhood and the value of research were probably the main drivers.