Research has shown that meditation, a practice known to help relax the mind and the body, can change brain wave patterns and promote concentration and memory. Caffeine, from coffee, tea or soda, boasts similar effects, but is usually accompanied by other health effects not experienced with meditation. Both caffeine and meditation have a short-term and long-term effect on the brain, yet research points to meditation being the best method for increasing these beneficial effects. Although in some ways similar, caffeine and meditation have differences, mainly regarding their effects on emotions and the central nervous system.
The similarities between caffeine and meditation focus on their abilities to influence brain waves, or the electrical communication and movement throughout the brain. Caffeine, coming from food items such as coffee and tea, can influence brain wave activity to promote alertness and memory recall. These benefits are rarely long lived, however. Caffeine accomplishes this task by helping the brain produce more beta waves, which are associated with quick thinking and wakefulness. This is why caffeine withdrawal symptoms in coffee or soda addicts include tiredness and slow response, as the brain relies on the regular source of caffeine to supply it with the electrical movements it needs to start the day.
Two of the main differences between caffeine and meditation are their effects on the nervous system and initial effects on brain wave conduction. Caffeine stimulates the sympathetic system within the brain, which is associated with quick response, thinking and movement. Meditation, on the other hand, normally stimulates the parasympathetic system, which is important for digestion and relaxation, as well as stress release. Although both caffeine and meditation seem to offer health benefits, the benefits of meditation on proper brain wave functioning throughout the day seem to be more permanent than those of caffeine.
Meditation can bring about similar effects as caffeine on brain chemistry, mainly that of producing certain brain waves and increasing response time and promoting better memory. During meditation, brain waves become slower, signaling relaxation and stimulating the parasympathetic system. Studies have shown that individuals who practice meditation regularly score higher on tests and are more alert throughout the day, just as with caffeine users. These effects with meditation, however, can be seen more clearly in brain scans and are longer lasting than with the use of caffeine.