13 month old has a pretty good schedule. Naps at 9 and again at 1:30 or 2. Bedtime is 7pm. Wake up time is not consistent! 5:20 has been the most regular time. Very occasionally she will wake up in the night. If it is before midnight I can just pick her up and sing a little and put her back down no problem. If it is after 12, I have a harder time doing that. For example, today she woke up at 4am, and because I know if I just nurse her I can get her to sleep back quicker and get her to sleep in a little longer (til at least 6 am) that is what I do. From what I read I should just keep her in her crib without getting her out so that she might go back to sleep. If her bedtime is 7pm, 5:30 would seem a reasonable wake up time. So I might try this, even though she will be upset, hopefully she may go back to sleep. I keep the room dark with no nightlight, so even at a desired time to wake up it is completely dark as it is when she wakes up at an undesirable time.
This is happening with my 15 month old right now... Almost exactly the same schedule! I co-sleep, but if I try to ignore him at 4 am without rocking him, he just gets really upset and wakes up for the day. I just get up and rock him...
I realized quickly that I am a much bigger fan of doing what works and will get us more sleep, than I am of doing what is "right." If leaving her in her crib and hoping she goes back to sleep on her own feels right to you, then do it, but if it gives you an icky feeling or just doesn't feel right, then it probably isn't right for you no matter what someone says or what you've read (I had a HUGE problem with that though in the beginning, but now, 2.5 years in, I'm okay with doing what works for us even if other people don't agree)
I realized that for the last month and a half or so she was waking up once during the night, sometimes along with an early waking. And I decided I needed to change my approach of picking her up when she woke up and started crying at night. I left her in the crib, and patted and hugged her, and then shushed her while I stayed nearby. I'm gonna try this for awhile and see how it goes. The following night went great- with no early waking either, though the next night she still woke up again. She doesn't seem distraught that I'm not picking her up, and this seems a more middle ground approach so...time will tell!
How is this approach going? I just realized you've had a little time with it, but I'd already responded, so here it is just in case:
Are you opposed to taking her into bed with you at the early waking? Not sure if this will be helpful but at around 8-9months I trained my daughter (now 12m) to go back to sleep when she woke up too early, by holding her with me (sort of swaddle-like) and shhhhhhhhh until she went back to sleep. This was before we night-weaned, so at first I'd go ahead and feed her before trying to get her to sleep again, then after a while I would just hold her. She continued waking early for a few weeks but went back to sleep faster and faster, and this got us all another hour or two of sleep, and now she wakes up betweeen 7 and 8. She usually needs a nap within 90min of waking up, so it really helped us to shift her wake-up time like that. I've had to do this again with the daylight savings time so she'll sleep till at least 7 again, gradually shifting since it's 8 for her, but it's going faster now. The only thing I can think of specific to your situation is maybe a dawn simulator if you want it to get light for her when it's "morning". 5:20 sounds really hard!
Anyway it sounds like your approach of comforting / signaling your presence (and that it's not time to get up) by patting her back and shushing etc could work well too, espcially since she's a little older - I hope you'll post back with an update!
Waking earlier and earlier can be an indication of too much daytime sleep. You could try reducing the daytime nap by 15 minutes for a few days and see if that makes for a later wake up.
It is always harder for us to get back to sleep after around 4am as we don't go back into a deep sleep, we just bounce around in the light parts of the sleep cycle.
Update: So, originally, I posted this question a month ago. My now 14 month old actually had been having some middle of night wakings, more than the occasional. The method I used work. I stayed with her, but if she woke up I didn't pick her up, just shushed her to sleep, but this happened only a few times where she needed my attention, and in the end I could just shush her without getting out of bed. As far as the early morning wakings are going, we are now at a 6 am or later waking! Had a few days after 6:30am. This was really great as I had put her down around 7:30/7:45. I had shifted her schedule in preparation for the time change and then somehow her awake times (between naps and bedtime) got longer, too. Also, I did try to reduce her daytime sleep. I definitely keep her first nap to only an hour and her second nap I sometimes let her go a little longer. I think that that has smoothed things out, but I'm still kind of "playing' with her bedtime, as I know that too late is almost certain to be a really early morning! I might get a timer that you can plug a small light into. That may help, too. She has changed so much these last 2 months on how much we can communicate with each other. I think I can train her to use the light. Even if this does work, I think it will be awhile before I can sleep until 8 am again!
Thank you everyone for writing!