In a warming ocean, temperature variability imposes intensified peak stress, but offers periods of stress release. While field observations on organismic responses to heatwaves are emerging, experimental evidence is rare and almost lacking for shorter-scale environmental variability. For two major invertebrate predators, we simulated sinusoidal temperature variability (±3 °C) around todays’ warm summer temperatures and around a future warming scenario (+4 °C) over two months, based on high-resolution 15-year temperature data that allowed implementation of realistic seasonal temperature shifts peaking midpoint. Warming decreased sea stars’ (Asterias rubens) energy uptake (Mytilus edulis consumption) and overall growth. Variability around the warming scenario imposed additional stress onto Asterias leading to an earlier collapse in feeding under sinusoidal fluctuations. High-peak temperatures prevented feeding, which was not compensated during phases of stress release (low-temperature peaks). In contrast, increased temperatures increased feeding on Mytilus but not growth rates of the recent invader Hemigrapsus takanoi, irrespective of the scale at which temperature variability was imposed. This study highlights species-specific impacts of warming and identifies temperature variability at the scale of days to weeks/months as important driver of thermal responses. When species’ thermal limits are exceeded, temperature variability represents an additional source of stress as seen from future warming scenarios.