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We introduce the distributed energy-aware node activation (DEANA) channel access protocol for power-constrained networks. Conventional channel access protocols waste energy during periods of idle listening and collisions. In DEANA, the radio is switched to a low-power, stand-by mode when a node is not transmitting or receiving, which makes DEANA very attractive for sensor networks. Using an analytical model, we show that the proposed approach can achieve significant energy savings (up to 95%).