The 43rd president recognizes that his plight was "incomparable" to the 9/11 responders who witnessed the tragedy firsthand

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and Stephanie Petit
March 02, 2017 10:01 AM
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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.

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

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.”