Pyramidal cells and GABAergic interneurons fire together in balanced cortical networks. In contrast to this general rule, we describe a distinct neuron type in mice and rats whose spiking activity is anti-correlated with all principal cells and interneurons in all brain states but, most prevalently, during the down state of non-REM (NREM) sleep. We identify these down state-active (DSA) neurons as deep-layer neocortical neurogliaform cells that express ID2 and Nkx2.1 and are weakly immunoreactive to neuronal nitric oxide synthase. DSA neurons are weakly excited by deep-layer pyramidal cells and strongly inhibited by several other GABAergic cell types. Spiking of DSA neurons modified the sequential firing order of other neurons at down-up transitions. Optogenetic activation of ID2+Nkx2.1+ interneurons in the posterior parietal cortex during NREM sleep, but not during waking, interfered with consolidation of cue discrimination memory. Despite their sparsity, DSA neurons perform critical physiological functions.