The 43rd president recognizes that his plight was "incomparable" to the 9/11 responders who witnessed the tragedy firsthand
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Although former President George W. Bush put on a brave face as he spoke at Ground Zero just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the tragedy haunted him behind closed doors.

“At night, after 9/11 I didn’t sleep very well,” he tells PEOPLE in a joint interview with wife Laura Bush. “I kept playing that movie through my head just over and over and over again because there was a lot of uncertainty during that time.”

He continues, “People look back at it and say it must have been obvious what to do, but it wasn’t at that moment. I didn’t sleep that much that night.”

For much more of our interview with Laura and George W. Bush, including exclusive at-home photos, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

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The 43rd president recognizes, however, that his plight was “incomparable” to the firefighters, police officers and other responders who witnessed the tragedy firsthand.

“I had a job to do,” he says. “They had a job to do, but I didn’t see the horrific scenes they saw nor did I get concussed by the loud explosions and the bombs that went off around them.”

RELATED VIDEO: Click HERE to watch People Features: George W. Bush, Portraits of Courage

President Bush Visits New York
Credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty

Despite the weight of his job, Bush says he was usually able to turn his brain off at night and get a good night’s rest.

“I’m sure there were some nights that I didn’t sleep well,” he said. “I also exercised hard every day to help me sleep, and Laura would know better than me. I think I was a pretty good sleeper.”