How much time should you really spend on social media? Experts weigh in

It may feel impossible to put your phone down and take a break from Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, but research shows limiting social media screen time can lead to better mental health.


» RELATED: The suicide rate for teen girls is the highest it’s been in 40 years — Is social media to blame? 

new study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, suggests cutting down use to 30 minutes a day may improve well-being.

The scientists conducted two separate trials, one in the fall and one in the spring, and examined social media use among 143 undergraduate students ages 18-22 and monitored their habits for one week across three platforms — Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

» RELATED: Study: The more social media you use, the lonelier you feel

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Researchers also surveyed the students’ mental health based on a multitude of factors, such as loneliness, self-esteem, anxiety, social support and depression.


After the baseline trials, they placed students in one of two groups. Participants in the first group continued using social media as they had, whereas the second was tasked with limiting use to 10 minutes per platform a day.

» RELATED: All teens need to be screened for depression, American pediatricians urge

Cutting down to just 30 minutes of use resulted in a “significant improvement in well-being,” study authors wrote. That group also experienced significant reductions in loneliness and depression compared to the control group.


Both groups, according to the date, showed significant decreases in fear of missing out and in anxiety, “suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring.”


This doesn’t mean you should cut social media out altogether or even that 30 minutes is the absolute most optimal time for users to spend on platforms.

» RELATED: Study: Instagram is the worst social media network for your mental health

“Here's the bottom line,” study author Melissa Hunt said in a statement. “Using less social media than you normally would leads to significant decreases in both depression and loneliness. These effects are particularly pronounced for folks who were more depressed when they came into the study.

It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely,” she added. But “some of the existing literature on social media suggests there's an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people's lives, particularly on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours.”

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A 2017 study from the Royal Society for Public Health and Young Health Movement echoed Hunt’s sentiments. After surveying nearly 1,500 young people aged 14 to 24 from across the United Kingdom using 14 key metrics, they found Instagram had the most negative effects on body image, sleep and FOMO (fear of missing out) and mental health overall.

Instagram and Snapchat "are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people," Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said in a statement.


In general, Hunt and her University of Pennsylvania colleagues involved in the research urge folks to put away their phones “and be with the people in your life.”

Read the full study, currently behind a paywall, at guilfordjournals.com.

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