Steve Connor: Procedure will offer relief for sleep-starved fiancée

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Indy Politics

Justine Thornton, Ed Miliband's future wife, was almost certainly the first person to realise that he had a problem with sleep apnoea, which literally means stopping breathing while asleep.

Many people who suffer from sleep apnoea are unaware that their sleep is being interrupted, often many times during the night, with short bouts of halted breathing. It is usually their partners who are first made aware of the problem. In addition to being at increased risk of snoring, a person suffering from sleep apnoea can seem restless whilst sleep, which can disturb someone else's sleep.

The short periods when they stop breathing cause the brain to alert the body that it needs to breathe again. This may not wake sufferers completely, but it can still leave them – and their partners – feeling tired the next day.

Typically, someone who suffers from sleep apnoea will suddenly stop snoring and appear to have stopped breathing completely. They start to breathe again with a gasp and sharp intake of breath, which can easily wake someone sleeping next to them.

In the case of Mr Miliband, the thin membrane inside the nose that divides the two nostrils, the septum, has also deviated to one side, which may be the cause of his breathing difficulties at night.

Ideally, the septum should divide each nostril equally, but in many people the septum deviates slightly from the mid-line position so that one nostril is more constricted than the other.

Most people with a deviated septum are unaware of it. However, in more extreme cases the constricted nostril can seriously restrict the flow of air and mucus in the nose, leading to blockages and the risk of infections.

It is quite easy to reposition a deviated septum. Septoplasty is a relatively routine procedure.

If all goes well with his NHS operation later this summer, the newly-married Mr and Mrs Miliband should both enjoy a refreshing night's sleep.

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