Introduction Screen time apps that allow smartphone users to manage their screen time are assumed to combat negative effects of smartphone use. This study explores whether a social media restriction, implemented via screen time apps, has a positive effect on emotional well-being and sustained attention performance. Methods A randomized controlled trial (N = 76) was performed, exploring whether a week-long 50% reduction in time spent on mobile Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube is beneficial to attentional performance and well-being as compared to a 10% reduction. Results Unexpectedly, several participants in the control group pro-actively reduced their screen time significantly beyond the intended 10%, dismantling our intended screen time manipulation. Hence, we analyzed both the effect of the original manipulation (i.e. treatment-as-intended), and the effect of participants’ relative reduction in screen time irrespective of their condition (i.e. treatment-as-is). Neither analyses revealed an effect on the outcome measures. We also found no support for a moderating role of self-control, impulsivity or Fear of Missing Out. Interestingly, across all participants behavioral performance on sustained attention tasks remained stable over time, while perceived attentional performance improved. Participants also self-reported a decrease in negative emotions, but no increase in positive emotions. Conclusion We discuss the implications of our findings in light of recent debates about the impact of screen time and formulate suggestions for future research based on important limitations of the current study, revolving among others around appropriate control groups as well as the combined use of both subjective and objective (i.e., behavioral) measures.