Reduced tongue muscle tone precipitates obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and activation of the tongue musculature can lessen OSA. The hypoglossal motor nucleus (HMN) innervates the tongue muscles but there is no pharmacological agent currently able to selectively manipulate a channel (e.g., Kir2.4) that is highly restricted in its expression to cranial motor pools such as the HMN. To model the effect of manipulating such a restricted target, we introduced a "designer" receptor into the HMN and selectively modulated it with a "designer" drug. We used cre-dependent viral vectors (AAV8-hSyn-DIO-hM3Dq-mCherry) to transduce hypoglossal motoneurons of ChAT-Cre+ mice with hM3Dq (activating) receptors. We measured sleep and breathing in three conditions: (i) sham, (ii) after systemic administration of clozapine-N-oxide (CNO; 1 mg/kg) or (iii) vehicle. CNO activates hM3Dq receptors but is otherwise biologically inert. Systemic administration of CNO caused significant and sustained increases in tongue muscle activity in non-REM (261 ± 33% for 10 hrs) and REM sleep (217 ± 21% for 8 hrs), both P < 0.01 versus controls. Responses were specific and selective for the tongue with no effects on diaphragm or postural muscle activities, or sleep-wake states. These results support targeting a selective and restricted "druggable" target at the HMN (e.g., Kir2.4) to activate tongue motor activity during sleep.