Loneliness is a feeling of isolation in your own experience. Most commonly, people think about loneliness as a result of physically being alone or without companions. While that is the most common and literal form of loneliness, it can extend far beyond not being surrounded by people. People can also feel lonely when they believe that nobody understands their experience. Frequently loneliness is directly connected to lack of social support. Studies have shown that worldwide feelings of loneliness have doubled in the past 30 years.
FOMO (or fear of missing out) is a slightly different phenomenon that refers to when an individual has a feeling that other people have a positive experience without that individual. This leads to feelings of loneliness as the person is now isolated from the experience that everybody else is having. Loneliness and FOMO are natural feelings that everybody has at one point or another and do not constitute depression on their own. But when those emotions become pervasive and a part of every day, they can lead to depression.
How does social media impact feelings of loneliness?
Social media inherently fuels the feelings of loneliness and FOMO. By seeing your friends’ fabulous vacations, new babies and great friendships, you are left wondering why you don’t have those things for yourself and why your friends are having fun without you. If you are spending excessive time on social media, that feelings begin to multiply and compound. Your life begins to feel very dull and lonely. It is also important to note that while your friend has this one adventure, most of his or her life is just as mundane as yours, but he or she did not post that on social media.
Research supports this idea that social media can lead to increased loneliness and even symptoms of depression. In a 2017 study, Twenge et al. found a direct link between depressive symptoms (such as loneliness and even suicidal thoughts) and the amount of time spent using social media in the adolescent population. This study shows that there is a connection between depression and social media use, however not necessarily that one impacts the other.
Links have been made between feelings of social isolation and social media use in young adults (19-32) as well. In another 2017 study, Primack et al. conducted an extensive national survey of young adults and found that those adults who endorsed high social media use had significantly higher levels of feelings of perceived social isolation as compared to individuals who reported low social media use.
In a more recent 2018 study, Hunt et al. performed a study using undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. They split the students into two groups – one that would limit their social media use to 30 minutes per day and the other that would continue to use social media as they usually would. After three weeks they found that the limited social media use group reported reductions in their feelings of loneliness and depression. Also, they found that both groups saw decreases in FOMO, which they attributed to the fact that the students were monitoring their use of social media.
“Research shows that by setting limits on social media use, people can find decreased feelings of loneliness.”
How social media impacts our sleep
One primary symptom and contributor to depression is lack of sleep. Many studies show that sleep deprivation can lead to depression, and in fact, difficulty sleeping is one of the symptoms of major depressive disorder. Lack of sleep can lead to a lessened ability to regulate one’s own emotions. Also, lack of sleep can lead to increased irritability, impulsivity and anger. Social media can impact sleep in many ways. The most obvious being that if you are spending your night scrolling through posts and pictures, you are not sleeping. Not only that, once you stop scrolling, your brain is still thinking about and processing all the information you just saw on those feeds.
Another impact that social media use has on sleep is related to the screens themselves. Screens emit bright blue lights which mimic daylight in our brains. As a result of being exposed to blue light, our brains do not send the signal to our body that it is time to go to sleep. This can have a significant impact on our circadian rhythm or the body’s internal clock that regulates sleep. This lack of sleep can be especially harmful in teens who need to sleep to develop their brains and grow physically.
What can I do to reduce my own social-media-related loneliness and depression?
In today’s world, it is not feasible to completely abstain from social media. Whether it is for social networks, professional networks or to keep up with information in our world, social media is becoming a big part of how our world works. What research shows, however, is that you don’t need to cut social media out of your life completely. Research shows that by setting limits on social media use, people can find decreased feelings of loneliness. While this may sound difficult, there are apps that can help you limit the amount of time you can use certain social media apps.
In terms of sleep, it is essential to institute a “screen bedtime.” A screen bedtime means that there is a certain amount of time before you go to sleep (typically 30-60 minutes) where you are doing activities that do not require the use of screens. This will allow your brain to begin to rest without being exposed to harmful blue lights. During this time, you can brush your teeth, spend time with your family or roommates, or even prepare meals or clothes for the next day. You may find that this time can help not only your internal sleep clock but also be a productive time for you to get ready for the next day.
Loneliness and FOMO are two feelings that are increasing significantly in today’s society. Research seems to support the idea that this increase can be attributable to increased social media use. While social media use can impact feelings of loneliness, it can also directly impact our sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. By limiting our social media use and instituting a “screen bedtime,” we can see a reduction in feelings of loneliness and FOMO as well as an improvement in our sleep.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however, is not intended to be considered treatment.
Hunt, M.G., Marx, R., Lipson, C., and Young, J. (2018). No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: 37 (10), 751-768.
Primack, B.A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J.E., Whaite, E.O., Lin, L.Y., Rosen, D.,…Miller, E. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the US, American Journal of Preventive Medicine: 53 (1), 1-8.
Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–17.
Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.
Licensed clinical psychologist in New York and California.
Provides individual, group and couples psychotherapy for children (and their parents), adolescents, and adults.
Specializes in working with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and ADHD.