About two years ago Norwalk Hospital CEO Dan DeBarba Jr. sat in on a Community Advisory Group meeting with some New Canaan residents.

One gentleman raised his hand and said, `You know, I love the physicians at the hospital's Sleep Disorders Center, I love the staff. The problem is I couldn't sleep. It was too noisy and too warm.'

DeBarba shared that story Wednesday at a ribbon cutting for the new Sleep Disorders Center, which has been relocated fromthe first floor of the hospital to a redesigned state-of-the-art facility at 520 West Ave. in Norwalk. The hospital's Occupational Health and Rehabilitation Services have also been moved to that location.

"We had the novel idea to have a center more conducive to sleeping. So that brings us here. We've worked with staff to develop a center better for the community," DeBarba said. "We have a vision. We want to be the provider of choice for the community. I hope this marks a giant step forward in providing services that our community has asked for."

Christopher Manfredi, director of the Sleep Disorders Center, believes that more people complaining of sleep difficulties will use its services now that it's not in the hospital.

"People hear they have to come to the hospital, so they don't want to come, even when their doctor refers them. They couldn't conceptualize that the center is comfortable, quiet and home-like," he said.

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DeBarba also commented on how the new space for occupational health and physical therapy services will better serve the community and make patients feel better about choosing Norwalk Hospital. He praised the staff for helping to design the space to serve the different cultures and operating systems of the services provided.

"What we've been able to really do here is split orthopaedic and neurology apart. Those patients really have different services to each other," added Michael R. Marks, vice president of business development at Norwalk Hospital.

He explained that the orthopaedic rehab staff is trained in fractures, sports injuries, joint replacements, back pain, neck pain/whiplash, tendonitis, etc. In neurological rehab, the staff is trained to help clients with diagnoses such as stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, Mutliple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Cerebral Palsy and more.

"I am very excited about our new facility because the design addresses our patient's individualized needs and preferences," said Diana Rich, manager of outpatient rehabilitation services, in a statement.

"For example, because some of the neurological patients prefer more privacy during therapy, there is a dedicated gym for neurological rehabilitation, separate from the other two facility gyms (occupational therapy and orthopedic gyms)."

The new center offers additional services, including hand therapy, hearing, concussion therapy, bike fitting, lymphedema rehab, driver rehabilitation and pediatric services.

Speaking of pediatrics, since sleep disorders affect children of all ages as well as adults, one of the six sleep laboratory bedrooms at the center is a pediatric bedroom, specially decorated and furnished (including accommodations for mom and dad) to make young children feel safe and secure. Lewis Kass, Pediatric Sleep Disorder Center director, is triple board-certified in pediatrics, pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine.

Recent research indicates that 15 to 65 percent of children suspected of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have an underlying sleep disorder, according to Manfredi. In addition to ADHD and asthma, childhood obesity can be linked with sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Sleep apnea is the periodic cessation of breathing associated with snoring and daytime sleepiness.

"There are studies that have been done taking the bottom 10 percent of a school district and screening them for sleep apnea. One study found some 100 kids who had sleep apnea in the first grade. And they treated 50 of them and left the other 50 alone. And the 50 the treated moved to the middle of the class from the bottom of the class. And the other 50 stayed at the bottom," Manfredi said.

No matter what their age, patients who come to the Sleep Disorders Center will receive a personalized comprehensive assessment by a board-certified sleep specialist to determine the best diagnostic test and treatment option.

When overnight monitoring is needed, they will stay in one of the six sleep lab bedrooms, where technicians will monitor their brain waves, heart beat and breathing while they sleep. It also records eye and leg movements as well as muscle tension. Sensors are placed on the head, face, chest and legs. They send tiny electrical signals to a computer.

Manfredi said typically people stay one night but may also require some daytime testing. If someone is diagnosed with sleep apnea and requires a continuous positive air pressure machine, they may stay a second night with the CPAP on for proper fitting and management.

"I toured the sleep center earlier...I thought I was in a Hilton gardens Inn," Norwalk Mayor Richer Moccia said with a smile after the ribbon cutting.

"I'll cut a ribbon every day if it means the expansion of services to our people such as the hospital, or a new business coming in. That's the lifeblood of our city, its growth both economically and for what all of you do as far as making life better for all of our citizens."

nrivard@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6266; twitter.com/nic@thecitizen