Earlier extracellular recordings during natural sleep have shown that, during slow-wave sleep (SWS), neocortical neurons display long-lasting periods of silence, whereas they are tonically active and discharge at higher rates during waking and sleep with rapid eye movements (REMs). We analyzed the nature of long-lasting periods of neuronal silence in SWS and the changes in firing rates related to ocular movements during REM sleep and waking using intracellular recordings from electrophysiologically identified neocortical neurons in nonanesthetized and nonparalyzed cats. We found that the silent periods during SWS are associated with neuronal hyperpolarizations, which are due to a mixture of K+ currents and disfacilitation processes. Conventional fast-spiking neurons (presumably local inhibitory interneurons) increased their firing rates during REMs and eye movements in waking. During REMs, the firing rates of regular-spiking neurons from associative areas decreased and intracellular traces revealed numerous, short-lasting, low-amplitude inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs), that were reversed after intracellular chloride infusion. In awake cats, regular-spiking neurons could either increase or decrease their firing rates during eye movements. The short-lasting IPSPs associated with eye movements were still present in waking; they preceded the spikes and affected their timing. We propose that there are two different forms of firing rate control: disfacilitation induces long-lasting periods of silence that occur spontaneously during SWS, whereas active inhibition, consisting of low-amplitude, short-lasting IPSPs, is prevalent during REMs and precisely controls the timing of action potentials in waking.