Circadian rhythms have evolved to anticipate and adapt animals to the constraints of the earth's 24-hour light cycle1. Although the molecular processes that establish periodicity in clock neurons of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) are well understood, the mechanisms by which axonal projections from the central clock drive behavioural rhythms are unknown2,3,4. Here we show that the sleep period in mice (Zeitgeber time, ZT0-12) is preceded by an increase in water intake promoted entirely by the central clock, and not motivated by physiological need. Mice denied this surge experienced significant dehydration near the end of the sleep period, indicating that this water intake contributes to the maintenance of overnight hydromineral balance. Furthermore, this effect relies specifically on the activity of SCN vasopressin (VP) neurons that project to thirst neurons in the OVLT (organum vasculosum lamina terminalis), where VP is released as a neurotransmitter. SCN VP neurons become electrically active during the anticipatory period (ZT21.5-23.5), and depolarize and excite OVLT neurons through the activation of postsynaptic VP V1a receptors and downstream non-selective cation channels. Optogenetic induction of VP release before the anticipatory period (basal period; ZT19.5-21.5) excited OVLT neurons and prompted a surge in water intake. Conversely, optogenetic inhibition of VP release during the anticipatory period inhibited the firing of OVLT neurons and prevented the corresponding increase in water intake. Our findings reveal the existence of anticipatory thirst, and demonstrate this behaviour to be driven by excitatory peptidergic neurotransmission mediated by VP release from central clock neurons.