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In cluster-based wireless sensor networks, the energy could be saved when the nodes that have data to transmit participate in cooperative multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO). In this paper, by making the idle nodes that have no data to transmit participate in the cooperative MIMO, it is found that much more energy could be saved. The number of the idle nodes that participate in the cooperative MIMO is optimized to minimize the total energy consumption. It is also found that the optimal number of all the nodes participating in cooperative communication does not vary with the number of nodes that have data to transmit. The proposition is proved mathematically. The influence of long-haul distance and modulation constellation size on the total energy consumption is investigated. A cooperative MIMO scheme with help-node participation is proposed and the simulation results show that the proposed scheme achieves significant energy saving.