Little is known about the ability of Drosophila circadian neurons to promote sleep. Here we show, using optogenetic manipulation and video recording, that a subset of dorsal clock neurons (DN1s) are potent sleep-promoting cells that release glutamate to directly inhibit key pacemaker neurons. The pacemakers promote morning arousal by activating these DN1s, implying that a late-day feedback circuit drives midday siesta and night-time sleep. To investigate more plastic aspects of the sleep program, we used a calcium assay to monitor and compare the real-time activity of DN1 neurons in freely behaving males and females. Our results revealed that DN1 neurons were more active in males than in females, consistent with the finding that male flies sleep more during the day. DN1 activity is also enhanced by elevated temperature, consistent with the ability of higher temperatures to increase sleep. These new approaches indicate that DN1s have a major effect on the fly sleep-wake profile and integrate environmental information with the circadian molecular program.