The arousal state of the brain covaries with the motor state of the animal. How these state changes are coordinated remains unclear. We discovered that sleep-wake brain states and motor behaviors are coregulated by shared neurons in the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr). Analysis of mouse home-cage behavior identified four states with different levels of brain arousal and motor activity: locomotion, nonlocomotor movement, quiet wakefulness, and sleep; transitions occurred not randomly but primarily between neighboring states. The glutamic acid decarboxylase 2 but not the parvalbumin subset of SNr gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-releasing (GABAergic) neurons was preferentially active in states of low motor activity and arousal. Their activation or inactivation biased the direction of natural behavioral transitions and promoted or suppressed sleep, respectively. These GABAergic neurons integrate wide-ranging inputs and innervate multiple arousal-promoting and motor-control circuits through extensive collateral projections.